Dynamo Kyiv out to ‘put smile back on face of Ukraine’ in first game since Russian invasion in Champions League play-off
DYNAMO KYIV coach Mircea Lucescu pledged to “put a smile back on the face of Ukraine” tonight.
The veteran Romanian, 76, leads his side into Champions League qualifying action against Fenerbahce in a match played in the Polish city of Lodz because of the continuing Russian invasion.
It will be the first competitive match any Ukrainian side has played since DECEMBER following the outbreak of war which forced the curtailment of the domestic season which went into hibernation for its annual winter break.
Lucescu became a figurehead for Ukrainian resistance during the early days of the invasion by pledging not to leave the country and seek sanctuary elsewhere.
Kyiv bosses sent the squad to Bucharest for safety in April and they have played a series of “peace” friendlies since.
Lucescu, though, has declined offers from suitors, including tonight’s opponents – who instead appointed Portuguese Jorge Jesus, in charge for the first time this evening – to show his commitment to the club and country.
But with bombs still falling, even on the outskirts of the country’s capital, Uefa declared Ukraine an unsafe location and ordered all “home” matches involving clubs to be played on neutral territory.
While a number of displaced Ukrainians have sought sanctuary in Poland, the switch will also enable far more Turkish fans to be present.
Lucescu, who was a controversial and unpopular choice to take over at Kyiv in 2020 after his long association with bitter rivals Shakhtar Donetsk, has now become a unifying cult figure.
He said: “Football is a part of everyone’s life. It was important in the pandemic and now it gives hope, enthusiasm and motivation to life.
“There is a terrible war going on, in Europe, and this is to remind everyone it is not over.
“We may not have played any competitive matches and the sooner our league restarts the better but we have won 18 out of 21 friendlies.”
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