It was two years ago in this very competition, well, the UEFA Cup actually, that Shakhtar Donetsk made a statement of intent to the rest of Europe, suggesting there had been a power shift in Ukrainian football and that it is them, and no longer Dynamo Kyiv who are the country’s dominant force.
They beat their archrivals from Ukraine’s capital at the semi-final stage of the tournament in 2009 and although Dynamo were champions that year, Mircea Lucescu’s side have won four of the last six Premier League titles.
Their 12-point lead over Dynamo with seven games of the current campaign remaining will surely see that figure bumped up to seven in the not-too-distant future.
Yuri Semin’s team will present a different challenge to what Braga faced in the Champions League against Shakhtar earlier in the season, who play a more attacking, aesthetically pleasing game than Dynamo with an emphasis on passing and movement, and their myriad of Brazilian flair players mean they are a distinctly less “Ukrainian” outfit than the Kyivites.
Their points difference in the Premier League table is slightly erroneous however and isn't indicative of a huge gulf in quality between the pair; rather, it points to a difficult first half to the season for Dynamo.
Semin returned on Christmas Eve last year to once again manage the side he took to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup and won the Premier League with in 2009, after Valeriy Gazzaev’s resignation was accepted at the second time of asking in the wake of a 2-0 defeat away to Moldova’s Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League.
His reign wasn't a success and already there’s been a marked improvement, with there seemingly being more direction and purpose displayed. Semin is able to get the best out difficult characters like Artem Milevskiy and Oleksandr Aliyev.
That he is in charge of a Dynamo side in the knockout stages of the Europa League is remarkable considering the defeat in Moldova followed a 2-2 draw with BATE Borisov from Belarus in Kyiv, and much credit must be given to their former defender Oleh Luzhny; t
he ex-Arsenal man stepped in once again as interim manager to guide them to the top of Group E.
Domestically, however, Shakhtar raced ahead in the championship and after Semin’s sacking at Lokomotiv Moskva it was almost inevitable that Ihor Surkis would put the call out for the Russian to return to Kyiv.
An 8-1 aggregate demolition of Beşiktaş in the Europa League heralded his homecoming, but it was their triumph over Manchester City in the previous round that stands out and shows just how much European experience Dynamo have.
That could make a difference against Braga.
Under Semin, Dynamo play a conventional 4-4-2 formation, with the core of the team being comprised largely of Ukrainian/eastern European players, and Braga will find them to be a highly organised outfit that knock the ball about well and are strong on the counterattack.
Dynamo are actually the top scorers left in the competition.
Ukrainian international striker Milevskiy missed the second leg against Manchester City after breaking his hand in a league match with Vorskla Poltava and their performance demonstrated how crucial he is to the Dynamo attack, which seemed to lack a focal point at the City of Manchester Stadium.
He’s a technically proficient, out-and-out forward and in his absence Dynamo created very little with just Andriy Shevchenko leading the line, but Milevskiy did make a 25-minute cameo during their 3-0 win over Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih on Saturday which suggests he’ll feature against Braga.
From the left, the front two are supported by the exciting 21-year-old Andriy Yarmolenko and on the right Oleh Gusev will start, with Roman Eremenko – top of the assists table in the Europa League this season – in the middle with Ognjen Vukojević.
Dynamo’s backline is interesting. Taras Mikhalik suffered a knee injury in the first leg against Beşiktaş and hasn’t featured since. He has returned to training, but it could well be that Aliya Yussuf is partnered by Leandro Almeida in the centre of defence. Yevhen Khacheridi has impressed lately, however. Danilo Silva will be on the right of the back four and Goran Popov at left-back.
There’s also uncertainty surround the goalkeeping position, as Dynamo’s vastly experienced captain Olexandr Shovkovskiy was missing at the weekend through illness and it’s not yet known whether he’ll recover in time for Braga’s arrival. The team’s doctor remains optimistic though.
Replacing the 36-year-old on Saturday was their highly-rated youngster Maxym Koval, who had a run in the side earlier in the year when Shovkovskiy was sidelined through injury.
Regardless of whether the rumours linking him with clubs in England are true, he certainly has the potential to follow in Shovkovskiy’s footsteps with both Dynamo and the Ukrainian national team.
They have only lost once all season at the Valeriy Lobanovskiy Stadium and in their previous seven European home games Dynamo have won four and drawn three, keeping clean sheets in each of the past four, so it’s going to be tough for Braga.
But if they can return to Portugal with something – even an away goal – it could make things interesting, especially as several of Semin’s side are a booking away from missing the second leg.