Paris Saint-Germain v. Dynamo Kiev
First Leg: 9 April 2009 – Parc des Princes, France.
Second Leg: 16 April 2009 – Lobanovsky Dynamo Stadium, Ukraine.
The second of two UEFA Cup matchups between France and Ukraine (the other being Shakhtar Donetsk and Marseille), this tie contains several interesting subplots.
After a legendary career with the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea, Claude Makelele returned to his native France and signed with Paris Saint-Germain. The Parisian club has fallen on hard times in recent years, sliding steadily down the table throughout the 2000’s before the bottom fell out in 2007-2008. During that year, they put forth a pitiful Ligue 1 campaign that saw the club barely avoid relegation by finishing in 16th place, a mere three points from the drop zone. How did they end up in the UEFA Cup, then? Well, they managed to win the Coupe de la Ligue (League Cup), which guaranteed them a birth in the UEFA Cup, kind of like how Tottenham managed to get in as a result of winning the Carling Cup.
The great defensive midfielder immediately became skipper and has helped strike a remarkable turnaround in PSG’s fortunes this year. As of the international break, they sit in sixth place, but are only four points out of first (and that was after they dropped two-of-three, losing to second-place Marseille and fourth-place Toulouse by a combined score of 7-2). It hasn’t all been Makelele, who is rumored to be considering retirement after this season. PSG also brought in midfielders Ludovic Giuly and Stephane Sessegnon, and forward Guillaume Hoarau, and the three of them have combined for 28 Ligue goals and 4 UEFA Cup goals. Additionally, PSG have Pegguy Luyindula, who has netted 6 goals in UEFA Cup competition, tied for third-most among all players with Mario Gomez of Stuttgart and Luis Bernardo Aguia of Braga.
If PSG want to add the UEFA Cup to their trophy cabinet, then they’ll have to buckle down and play the kind of defense that they’re capable of. When they’ve beaten quality teams in Ligue 1, they’ve usually done it with defense. They defeated Bordeaux in September by a score of 1-0. Ditto for Lyon and Lille in November. When they’ve lost, however, they’ve lost big. Bordeaux paid them back with a 4-0 whipping in early January. Marseille thrashed them, 3-1, two weekends ago, only for Toulouse to do one better and win 4-1 the following weekend. They’ll certainly take a couple of 1-0 results here, especially if it means that they’ll advance to the semifinals.
As for Dynamo Kiev, it’s hard to believe that they were one of three Ukrainian teams in the Final 16. They knocked out their domestic rivals, Metalist Kharkiv, in order to advance to the Quarterfinals. For a squad that always seemed to do well in Europe, Kiev have slumped lately, going out in the group phase of each of the previous two Champions Leagues and failing to make it to the Knockout phase of any European competition since 1998-1999 (not counting a blink-and-you-missed it cameo in the 2004-2005 UEFA Cup Round of 32). They’ve always managed to dominate the Ukrainian League, however, last season was the first time that they failed to win a trophy since 2000-2001, and only their third trophyless season since Ukraine became an independent country. They came in second to Shakhtar Donetsk in both the league and the cup competitions.
Kiev may not be the dangerous force that they were during the days of Andriy Shevchenko, but they are still a force to be reckoned with. This season, they started out in the Champions League, and ran up impressive victories over Fenerbache and Champions League quarterfinalists, Porto, and drew with Arsenal. They had some trouble against Metalist Kharkiv in the previous round, but ended up advancing on away-goals. They have a seasoned team that could be poised to win the whole thing. With offensive firepower in the form of Artem Milevskiy, Oleksandr Aliev (who scored the winner against Porto), Artem Kravets (whose brace eliminated Valencia), and Ismael Bangoura, Dynamo Kiev have plenty of options up front that can make a defense nervous. Additionally, they have the ultimate eraser in goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskyi, the club captain who has already established himself as one of the best shot-stoppers in the world.
Will Paris Saint-Germain give its celebrated skipper one last taste of European glory? Or will Dynamo Kiev announce their return to the European stage at the expense of the Parisian club?