Revived Dynamo Electrifies Kiev

KIEV -- Dynamo Kiev's winning start in the European Champions' League has stirred Ukrainians who scent a return to the days when they dominated Soviet soccer and twice won European honors.

Coming on top of a strong World Cup qualifying campaign by a national squad built around Dynamo, Ukraine's soccer players are putting their newly independent state on the map.

That they are doing so at a time when Russian soccer is in crisis has also delighted millions, who long resented rule from Moscow and were especially incensed at the way Russia grabbed the Soviet Union's place in world soccer -- and much Ukrainian talent -- after the breakup of the communist state in 1991.

On Wednesday, Newcastle United will not only face a Dynamo side brimming with confidence after a 3-1 win at PSV Eindhoven in its first Champions' League game, but a crowd of 100,000 and an entire soccer-mad nation of 51 million desperate to make a mark on the world after centuries in Russia's shadow.

If they do, much of it will be down to one man.

Valery Lobanovsky, whose two previously spells as Dynamo's coach were crowned with European Cup Winners' Cups in 1975 and 1986, returned to the club for a third stint late last year.

"The coach for all times and all nations" was how he was described during a celebration of Dynamo's achievements to date in Kiev's Independence Square last weekend, a play on a title bestowed on Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

"We dream of victory in the Champions' League -- it's within our power to bring the Cup to Kiev. Again," Dynamo President Hryhory Surkis told an ecstatic crowd of 10,000.

Lobanovsky is noted for a dourness verging on the pessimistic. But he was unable to quell cup fever after Dynamo qualified for the Champions' League for the first time since being thrown out for trying to bribe a referee in 1995.

"He has performed a miracle," declared Dynamo's spokesman.

Talk of miracles is premature.

Newcastle, Barcelona and PSV still stand between Dynamo and the quarterfinals. The national side, packed with Dynamo players, could well finish second to Germany in its World Cup qualifying group, but third-placed Portugal has other ideas.

For many Ukrainians, however, one important point has already been scored, against their old rivals from Moscow.

The biggest cheer of the night during Dynamo's qualifying round tie came from the news that Spartak Moscow had been knocked out.

Dynamo Kiev and Spartak were the powerhouses of Soviet soccer. Matches between them gave Ukrainians a rare chance to vent suppressed national feeling. Kiev won 13 titles to Spartak's 12, all the Ukrainian wins coming after 1961.

No Russian club has won a European trophy. Soviet squads were packed with Ukrainians such as Oleg Blokhin, European player of the year in 1975, and Alexei Mikhailichenko in the 1980s.

So Ukrainians were outraged when, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia claimed the lone Soviet berth in the qualifying rounds for the 1994 World Cup. Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus offered to play the Russians for the slot.

Instead, politics and Moscow's better contacts in soccer's international governing bodies proved decisive.

Outstanding Ukrainian players like Viktor Onopko, Ilya Tsymbalar, Sergei Yuran and Oleg Salenko threw in their lot with Russia. A nation still coming to terms with independence mourned. Dynamo, now in a Ukrainian league with little competition, lost key players and made little impact in Europe.

Some things have not changed. Dynamo has won six titles in a league beset by money trouble and occasional violence. Two years ago, a bomb killed the president of Shakhtar Donetsk and four of his bodyguards just before a match.

"Revival? What revival?" said Serhiy Derepa, Ukraine's top sports commentator. "There is only one club. Only Dynamo is up. Look at the national side. There only two non-Dynamo players."

Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, which won the Soviet title in 1983 and 1988, has been hit by constant financial problems, though Shakhtar might now be emerging as a threat, Derepa said.

There are other signs of new life. Dynamo president Surkis said recently he had turned down a $17-million bid from Milan for striker Andrei Shevchenko.

If Kiev can stand up to big western league clubs, Shevchenko and strike partner Serhiy Rebrov will be two of the hottest names in Europe.