Offshore drilling, Ukraine: at Shakhtar Donetsk 3, Dynamo Kiev 1

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Man of the Match: Defender Oleksandr Kucher came into today’s game with two Premier League goals in his five-year Donetsk career. He doubled that on Sunday.

In the first half, a corner from the right was allowed to drop near the spot. Kucher caught goalkeeper Maksym Koval between to minds (whether to come for it or stay). His right-footed shot may have been weak, but it was well placed, slotting just inside the left post to give Shakhtar an early lead.

Then, just past the hour mark, Kucher beat marker Taye Taiwo to a hooking Darijo Srna corner, diving at four yards out to head the match-winner past Koval.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Context:
    • Combine rivalry, stakes, and importance to the league’s table (huge, given Ukraine’s duopoly), there may only be two more important matches in European soccer (Spain’s Clasicos). It’s been 20 years since another team claimed the title in Ukraine’s top league, making today’s points crucial to whomever hopes to wear this year’s crown.
    • While this duopoly may not have the same deep history as Spain’s, Ukraine’s may be more fierce, right now. Tensions erupting from last year’s final meeting temporarily cast doubt on whether the national team would be a factor at Euro 2012, with divisions within the team threatening to undermine the co-hosts’ tournament. Ultimately, those fears were unfounded. Though Ukraine failed to advance out of Group D, coach Oleg Blohkin did an admirable job of guiding the team to a 1-1-1 record.
    • Today was the clubs’ first meeting since April, when an early sending off of Dynamo midfielder Denis Garmash sparked tensions (and resentment) during Shakhtar’s 2-0 win. Thankfully, cooler heads took the field on Sunday.
    • The clubs came into today’s match separated by only three points at the top of the table. Defending champions Shakhtar were 7-0-0 through the league’s first seven rounds. Dynamo’s only blemish came two weeks ago, losing 1-0 at Vorskla.
  • Early pressure from Shakhtar pushed Dynamo back at the onset, Donetsk using a combination of home field advantage and superior midfield skill to control most of the first half. With the combination of that pressure, Darijo Srna’s service, and Dynamo’s poor defending, a goal like Kucher’s opener was inevitable.
  • But despite being second best for much of the half, Dynamo found a vital goal just before half time. Niko Kranjcar was given too much time on the ball 36 yards from goal. The former Spur rolled a pass behind left back Razvan Rat, with Andriy Yarmolenko beating the Romanian to the ball. Yarmolenko cut inside once, sending Rat to ground, then cut back on his left foot again, leaving Yaroslav Rakitskiy behind, before slotting an equalizer to the left of Andriy Pyatov. Shockingly, Shakhtar were sent to locker room even, 1-1.
  • Thankfully for the Donbass crowd, the goal was more wakeup call than turning point. Just past the hour, a strong shot from Srna forced a corner, with the Croatian international delivering a perfect ball for Kucher’s second goal.
  • Yuri Syomin’s substitutions over the last half hour failed to change the game, and when (in the 81st minute) Luiz Adriano was given time to get his right foot around a shot near the edge of Dynamo’s penalty area, the holders had their insurance goal.
  • Though the Yarmolenko goal provided a huge scare (giving Dynamo the prospect of a huge road point), Shakhtar come out of this match looking heavy favorites. While only eight of the league’s 30 rounds have been played, history hints these derbies are huge. Today’s gives Shakhtar a six point lead on Dynamo and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (drawn at Vorskla on Sunday). Perfect through eight rounds with a +25 goal difference, it’s hard to see anybody catching the defending champions.
  • As for Dynamo, the pressure is on. While they can probably drop some points before the teams meet again in April, they can’t play with that assumption. Every league match becomes a must-win, now forced to make up more points than they can claim in the rematch. With Dnipro continuing to show improvement, Dynamo must also worry about second place – Ukraine’s Champions League qualifying spot.