When people think of the 1999 Champions League one thing springs to mind: Manchester United’s seminal comeback in the final against Bayern Munich.
However, they could easily have been playing Dynamo Kyiv in the final rather than the Germans, as the Ukranian outfit surprised everyone by making the last four.
They nearly went one step further. They led the Germans 3-1 with 12 minutes to go in the first leg in Kiev but ironically conceded two late goals to Steffen Effenberg and Carsten Jancker. Vitaliy Kosovskyi, scorer of the third goal, missed a 1-on-1 with Oliver Kahn to give the hosts a three goal lead. The let off urged the Germans forward to their comeback. Mario Basler scored a screamer in the second leg in Munich to send Bayern into the final in Barcelona.
Dynamo had first caught the attention the previous year when they trounced Barcelona at the Nou Camp with young sensation Andriy Shevchenko scoring a first half hat-trick. They were knocked out in the quarter final stages by eventual finalists Juventus that year but they made an even bigger impression the following season.
Their campaign very nearly ended in far more mundane circumstances, as after beating Barry Town (an interesting case themselves) they needed a penalty shoot out to overcome Sparta Prague in the 3rd qualifying round.
Having squeezed into the group stages they struggled early on, losing to Panathanaikos and drawing at home to Lens. However, a last minute equaliser from Serhiy Rebrov against Arsenal at Wembley was the turning point for them. They won their last three games, including a 3-1 victory over the reigning English champions, to top the group.
They were “rewarded” with a tie against holders Real Madrid in the last eight. Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s team once again upset the odds though, drawing 1-1 at the Bernabeu, before a second half brace from Shevchenko in front of 80,000 in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, gave them a 2-0 win and set up the tie with Bayern.
Domestically, Dynamo were hugely dominant winning nine consecutive league titles between 1993 and 2001, including numerous doubles along the way.
The side was moulded by legendary coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi, who by 1999 was in his third spell in charge of the capital club. Jonathan Wilson’s brilliant Inverting the Pyramid explains how Lobanovskyi became one of the first managers to introduce a pressing style, maintaining a steadfast belief that football was about controlling space. He was a disciplinarian who had little time for mavericks, emphasising that “everybody must fulfill the coach’s demands first and only then perform his individual mastery”. He was one of the first coaches to realise the potential of statistics in football and made great use of them in his tactical instructions. Lobanovskyi, in true Soviet style, was a pragmatist at heart and he made his teams hard to beat on the road and hard to contain at home.
His 1999 side were no different, with a steady base provided by long term Ukraine goalkeeper Oleksander Shovkovskiy and a defence including Oleg Luzhny, Kakha Kaladze and Vladyslav Vashchuk. Vashchuk often played as a sweeper behind the others, while Luzhny bombed forward offering width to a narrow midfield, containing Ukranian internationals Andriy Husin and Kosovskiy. The star quality was upfront through in Rebrov and Shevchenko, who scored 12 between them in the Champions League in 1999 and 11 in 1998.
Predictably, Kyiv were soon picked apart by Europe’s top clubs with Shevchenko moving to AC Milan that summer for a then record fee. Rebrov, whose performances against Arsenal caught the eye, made the ill-fated move to Tottenham Hotspur, where he was dumped by Glenn Hoddle. Rebrov is now the Dynamo Kyiv coach. Luzhny joined Arsenal in 1999 with relative success, while Kaladze followed Shevchenko to Milan in 2001, where he picked up two Champions League winner’s medals and made over 200 appearances. Kaladze is now a government minister in his native Georgia.
Dynamo struggled to replicate their success following so many crucial departures and the era officially came to an end in May 2002, when Lobanovskyi died of a stroke, aged 63. Such is the regard in which he was held that a statue was erected of him outside the home stadium, which is now named after him.
Had Kosovskiy not missed that chance in the first leg of the semi-final, who’s to say they wouldn’t have gone on to beat a Manchester United side missing Keane and Scholes in the final, given the dominance Bayern had in that game. We might be talking about the first Ukranian Champions League winners but we’re not. Such is football.