Dnipro chasing a dream in Europa League final
MOSCOW (AP) — Against the backdrop of a conflict tearing its country apart, Ukrainian club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk is aiming for success in the Europa League final.
Dnipro, which has reached the final without playing a single game at its own stadium, will face Spanish club Sevilla on Wednesday in Warsaw. The winner will earn a place in next year’s Champions League, providing added motivation to win UEFA’s second-tier event — formerly known as the UEFA Cup.
Sevilla is chasing a record fourth title in the competition, and goes into the match as the clear favorite. If Sevilla wins, it will become the first team to twice win back-to-back titles in the competition’s history.
Here are some things to know about Wednesday’s match:
SUCCESS IN WARTIME
Dnipro is based in Dnipropetrovsk, a city in the eastern half of Ukraine but far from the conflict zone which has made several other Ukrainian teams homeless, notably Shakhtar Donetsk.
Even so, UEFA security restrictions meant European games could not be played there this season, forcing Dnipro to move to Kiev. That, however, has not stopped Dnipro from knocking out a pair of former champions, Ajax and Napoli.
Dnipro heads to Warsaw on the back of some very mixed recent form.
Two losses in its last three league games ended a bid to qualify for the Champions League, while Shakhtar knocked Dnipro out of the Ukrainian Cup in the semifinals.
However, Dnipro coach Myron Markevych has been keeping his best players in reserve for the final, prioritizing the Europa League over any other competition.
Saturday brought a morale-boosting win, too, as a youth-based Dnipro beat rival Shakhtar 3-2, with Dnipro’s Europa League starters kept in reserve.
“I wish to God that no one gets injured and that’s especially true for the defensive line,” Markevych said after that game. “You have to look at the kind of games where everything’s on the line. That’s where you see true skill.”
A win on Wednesday would make Dnipro only the third Ukrainian club to win a major continental title. In the days of the Soviet Union, Dynamo Kiev won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1975 and 1986, while Shakhtar lifted the UEFA Cup in 2009.
Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, who is Polish, will get an added boost by playing the final in Warsaw.
Krychowiak has scored three goals in 47 matches with Sevilla, one in the Europa League.
“He’s playing at home and that will surely be an extra motivation for him,” Sevilla captain Fernando Navarro said of the 25-year-old Krychowiak. “If he scores a couple of goals for us that’ll be really great.”
Sevilla won the Europa League in 2006, 2007 and last season.
“We’re living through some very wonderful moments,” Sevilla coach Unai Emery said. “We need to live Wednesday’s match with intensity and as something unique.”
Even though Ukraine borders Poland, there are several obstacles for Dnipro fans who want to travel to the game in Warsaw.
The local currency has plunged in value since the war began, making foreign travel more expensive for fans. Dnipro’s supporters also require a visa to travel to Poland, although a simplified system has been put in place for the final.