Dynamo Kiev return to the summit
Dynamo Kiev's enduring love affair with league titles
stretches back more than 40 years. During Soviet times, no other
club won the USSR Championship on more occasions - 13 times - and
since the launch of the Ukrainian league with the country's
independence 15 years ago, Dynamo have claimed a further 12 titles.
For Dynamo's fans, the loss of 'their' championship
trophy to arch rivals Shakhtar Donetsk over the previous two
seasons can now be consigned to history.
In 2005, Shakhtar finished a comfortable seven points ahead of Dynamo, but last year the battle went down to the wire as both teams finished level on points, only for the Donetsk side to see off their capital rivals in a play-off match. Dynamo therefore went into the 2006/07 season nursing a strong desire for revenge, and the title race swiftly developed into a familiar duel between the two heavyweights. It was in November that Anatoliy Demyanenko's men moved to the top of the table via a 1-0 victory over Shakhtar in Kiev, thereby inflicting an important psychological blow on their rivals.
A costly elimination
Leading the way from the word go, Dynamo had one hand firmly on the title by the winter break halfway through the season. And despite a pause of more than three months, they swiftly rediscovered their form once the league resumed. Shakhtar, meanwhile, were left reeling by their exit from the UEFA Cup. Having come within a whisker of eliminating holders and eventual champions FC Seville, Mircea Lucescu's team were hauled back in the dying stages of the game, before the Andalucians went on to win in extra-time. Scarred by that result, the Miners went on suffer home defeats in the league against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (2-3) and FC Kharkiv (1-1).
As Dynamo continued to bolster their position at the top of the table, those two defeats were to cost the title-holders dear, as. With three games left, the two teams came face to face once more, giving the 'Orange-Blacks' of Donetsk one last chance to peg back their rivals. However, goals from Pole Mariusz Lewandowski and Brazilian Brandao were not enough to see off Dynamo, who responded with strikes from their own Brazilian duo, Kleber and Diogo Rincon, to earn a 2-2 draw.
Dynamo had to wait until the penultimate week of the season for the chance to seal the title, knowing that one point from home match against Karpaty Lviv would be enough to see them crowned champions. When Belarusian forward Leonid Kovel opened the scoring for the visitors, a deathly silence descended on the Valeriy Lobanovsky Stadium. Fans of the 'Blue and Whites' were soon smiling again though, as Rincon equalised from the penalty spot, before Oleg Gusev and Maksim Shatskikh fired the home side ahead to secure the three points and the title.
Records for Dynamo, regrets for Shakhtar
Dynamo's total dominance was underlined by the fact that they went through the entire campaign unbeaten, notching 22 victories and eight draws. In fact, their only taste of defeat in any competition came in the UEFA Champions League. Their talismanic keeper, Oleksandr Shovkovskyi conceded just 23 goals all season, while Rincon, Kleber, Shatsikh, Gusev, Artem Milevskiy and Sergei Rebrov all found the net on a regular basis to rack up 63 goals in all.
Shakhtar, meanwhile, endured an altogether miserable season. In addition to their elimination from first the Champions League and then the UEFA Cup, they also suffered defeat in the Ukrainian Super Cup and the final of the Ukrainian Cup. To add to their humiliation, the victors on each occasion were none other than their old rivals Dynamo.
Eternal outsiders Dnipro were once more foiled in their efforts to disrupt the Dynamo-Shakhtar duopoly and had to content themselves with fourth place and qualification for the Uefa Cup. They were pipped to their more familiar third spot by Metalist Kharkiv, who finished the campaign with an excellent show of form. In the second half of the season, Metalist suffered just two defeats (to Dynamo and Shakhtar) in 14 games.
Bad form and bad luck
By contrast, the capital city's other club, Arsenal Kiev, who had been a lofty fourth going into the winter break, had a catastrophic second half of the season, taking just five points from their last 14 games.
As a result, they finished the 2006/2007 championship in 14th
place, with only Stal Alchevsk and Illichivets Mariupol, who were
both relegated, below them. The other big disappointments of the
season were Metalurh Donetsk who, despite the presence of Peruvian
Andres Mendoza, Dutchman Jordi Cruyff, and Georgian Georgi
Demetradze, could only manage a modest ninth place finish.
The prize for the unluckiest team, meanwhile, must go to Karpaty Lviv, whose squad was decimated by illness in March. Unable to muster enough eligible players for two league fixtures, the west Ukrainian club were handed 3-0 losses on each occasion. Those defeats on paper proved costly for Karpary, for had they finished with five points more, they would have been eligible for the Intertoto Cup.