Vadim Furmanov –
With ten minutes remaining in Wednesday’s Ukrainian Cup final in Kharkiv between Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv, the match looked like it was headed to penalties. Neither side looked particularly impressive. The best chance of the game had fallen to Shakhtar’s Brazilian winger Marlos with an 8th-minute penalty, but his attempt at a Panenka hit the bar and was cleared by the Dynamo defense.
But in the 80th minute, Marlos gathered the ball twenty yards outside the Dynamo penalty area, deftly evaded two challenges, and left keeper Maksym Koval stranded with a goal from outside the box worthy of winning a cup final.
Marlos burst into tears at the side of the pitch during his celebrations. After the match, he apologised to the supporters for missing the penalty, but he had more than redeemed himself.
“When I received the ball, at that second I knew that I would shoot,” Marlos told reporters. “This is football. Shakhtar is what I love so much in my life! That is why I could not hold back my emotions and cried immediately after the goal.”
Marlos decided the cup final in Shakhtar’s favour
The emotional scenes at the Metalist Stadium—the same stadium where Marlos established himself as a star of Ukrainian football at now-defunct FC Metalist Kharkiv—were a microcosm of Shakhtar’s season of vindication.
After securing the league title with four rounds to play, Shakhtar Donetsk have now conquered their first domestic double since the 2012-13 season. This is the club’s eleventh cup triumph, which equals Dynamo’s total.
Disregarding the glorified friendly that is the Ukrainian Supercup, Dynamo have now failed to defeat Shakhtar in a competitive match in eight competitive meetings. This stretch included a pair of humiliating 3-0 defeats last season. During the weekend Shakhtar will get the opportunity to compound Dynamo’s misery in their fourth league encounter.
This week’s cup final was far from an instant classic. Shakhtar were arguably the better side but had Dynamo not been so wasteful with their finishing the result could easily have been reversed. Andriy Yarmolenko, in particular, was guilty of missing several golden opportunities.
But Shakhtar’s overall superiority, in this match and all season long, is indisputable. Their dominance this season signals that they, and not their opponents, are at the pinnacle of Ukrainian football and their victory in the cup final only strengthens their claim.
Dynamo are at a crossroads
Dynamo, meanwhile, stand at a crossroads. Manager Serhiy Rebrov’s third season as manager will conclude as his first trophyless one, but it remains to be seen whether it will be his last at the club.
Rebrov is still a young manager, and regarding trophies conquered per season, he is one of the most successful managers in Dynamo’s history. He oversaw the renaissance during which the league title returned to the capital for the first time in six seasons and guided Dynamo to their first appearance in the playoff round of the Champions League since 1999 when the manager himself formed half of a deadly striking partnership with current national team manager Andriy Shevchenko.
But despite these successes, plenty of questions remain over his ability to lead the club to future glory. Dynamo’s promising young players have largely failed to progress under his tutelage, and some of his decisions regarding transfers have been questionable, to say the least (Exhibit A: Hladkiy over Teodorczyk at striker).
Moreover, Rebrov has been exposed tactically in this season’s encounters with his Portuguese counterpart at Shakhtar, and he has not been able to put to rest the persistent rumblings that the real architect of Dynamo’s revival was his Spanish assistant, Raul Riancho.
Shakhtar Donetsk are superior
The problems at Dynamo run far, far, deeper than the manager. Challenging for the league next season will require more than a fresh face on the bench. Right now Shakhtar’s squad is superior, and Dynamo’s management is struggling to adjust to the new economic realities.
This moment, however, belongs to Shakhtar. In the third year of their exile, they have emphatically and convincingly laid claim to the title of best team in Ukraine. Next season the club will not be returning to Donetsk, but they will be back in the familiar territory of the Champions League, representing their city and country in the group stages of Europe’s elite competition.
As captain Darijo Srna told the press, “we are ready to take a step forward in the Champions League.” Despite the circumstances, the future looks brighter for Shakhtar than for their eternal rivals.
Vadim Furmanov is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Originally from Ukraine, Vadim has resided in Chicago since 1994 and is a passionate supporter of both Dynamo Kyiv and the Ukrainian national team. He is also a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and a member of the Fire’s Section 8 supporters group. He writes primarily about Ukrainian football, as well as the intersection between football, politics, and history. You can follow Vadim on Twitter @vfurmanov.