The draws for Champions and Europa League were completed on Friday with Barcelona facing Bayern Munich and Juventus paired with holders Real Madrid in the Champions League. Meanwhile, as Seviila bid to retain their Europa title, they must first overcome semi-final opponents Fiorentina, but it is perhaps the remaining tie which can arguably be described as the most difficult to predict. Raphael Benitez at Napoli has been allocated the task of trying to defeat the surprise team of the tournament FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and the Ukrainian outfit have already proved that will provide difficult opposition for the Italians.
Dnipo have tended to live in the shadow of their more illustrious competitors Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk in both Ukrainian football and on the European stage and have yet to win the domestic league since1992 when the Ukraine football teams split from the Soviet Union equivalent. This will also be a first semi-final appearance in a major European tournament for a team based in the city of Dnipropetrovsk which borders the troubled Donbass area of Ukraine. To date, the city has generally escaped the fighting which has engulfed the Eastern region of the country although the inhabitants tend to favour the Kiev arguments in the ongoing disputes.
As for the football team, there were few hints of progress to the semi-finals of the Europa League when they lost three of their group games but finally claimed second position behind Inter Milan. There followed wins against Olympiakos, Ajax and Club Brugge during the later rounds, with the latter quarter-final tie victory achieved via an aggregate 1-0 scoreline as Evgeniy Shakhov claimed the winner on home soil with just eight minutes remaining.
However, Napoli will be aware of the recent improvement in form at Dnipro as the team has clinched five victories and a draw from six games since the resumption of the Ukrainian Premier League in March following the extended winter break. In a squad composed mainly of Ukrainian nationals as opposed the Brazilian influx at nearby Donetsk, Napoli will need to wary of the threat of striker Yevhen Seleznyov who has netted six competitive goals since the beginning of April.
Although Dnipro have earned some comfortable victories in domestic football this year, do not expect a goal feast when they face the Italian team. The team has yet to score more than two goals in any of their Europa League matches this season and they have conceded two goals in normal time on just a couple of occasions.
Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk may not be the most glamorous of the eight teams remaining in the Champions and Europa Leagues but they could still prove to be the surprise package despite the fact that all home legs in the current tournament are being played in Kiev rather than at the 31,000 capacity Dnipro-Arena.
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