Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
Sure, it may be Chelsea-Arsenal on Sunday, but there are a couple of derbies on the other side of the Iron Curtain which might also pique your interest…
Zimbru Chişinău v Sheriff Tiraspol (Divizia Naţională, 1pm BST)
WAIT! Don’t stop reading just because it’s Moldovan football!
Yeah, it’s rubbish most of the time, but this weekend it’s the capital cities derby; it’s what the Divizia Naţională is all about.
This is one of them *ahem* politically charged affairs: most successful club from the capital of Moldova versus most successful club from the capital of Moldova’s breakaway republic of Transdniestr.
Chişinău and Tiraspol are separated by about 40 miles of undulating Moldovan countryside… and a smattering of Russian troops, tanks, military checkpoints and a blumin’ massive rebel army.
The ethnically Russian Transdniestrians fought for their independence from Romanian-leaning Moldova in 1992, and while not achieving it, an uneasy peace exists in the region that doesn’t really suit anyone, not least the government in Chişinău, who have no jurisdiction over the region.
It all sounds very exciting, an actual rogue Soviet state, but not so for Moldovans, who must suffer the ignominy of completing immigration forms and presenting their passports at the border should they wish to visit Transdniestr. Which they very often don’t.
Sheriff were only formed in 1997, and are arguably something of a promo tool for Transdniestr, who were given the brief rubric of usurping Zimbru as the country’s most successful club.
This has largely been achieved due to considerable financial backing from their eponymous and enigmatic owners.
Sheriff have won the last ten Divizia Naţionalăs, and knocked Zimbru – historically Moldova’s most famous side – into a very distant second.
They don’t like this, especially the ultras, the Zimbru Boys, who display provocative banners in the stands and chant some rather nasty things to their foes from the other side of the repugnant Dneistr River (video below).
Bragging rights are everything as far as this fixture is concerned, and Sheriff’s habitual slow start to the league while they concentrate on European affairs means Zimbru are one place above them in fifth in the Divizia Naţională.
Regular European football affords Transdniestr some fantastic publicity and Moldovans aren’t exactly enthralled at Sheriff representing the country on the continental stage.
It’s probably the only time Sheriff ever call themselves “Moldovan”.
Expect this one to get lively, both on the pitch and in the stands.
NMTB prediction: Sheriff win.
Shakhtar Donetsk v Dynamo Kyiv (Premier-Liga, 5pm BST)
It’s also El Big One in Ukraine, where the main talking point will be this afternoon’s resignation of Dynamo’s boss Valery Gazzaev following their 2-0 defeat to Sheriff (yes, them again) in the Europa League last night.
Rudderless Dynamo visit Fortress Donbass on Sunday, where Shakhtar have yet to taste defeat since moving in last year.
In fact, they generally win there. The Hirnyky recorded victories in every single home game bar one in the 2009/10 season and no, it wasn’t Dynamo they dropped points to (it was a 0-0 with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk).
To much delight, the title was effectively won in Donetsk after Shakhtar beat their rivals 1-0 in the penultimate round of matches.
Maximum points have also been achieved on each occasion at the Donbass Arena this season too, and unsurprisingly they lead Dynamo Kyiv in the table after 11 games.
The two heavyweights of Ukrainian football first clashed in 1938, but it wasn’t until Rinat Akhmetov started ploughing his zillions into Shakhtar that the fixture carried the significance it does today.
Things between Kiev and Shakhtar could get a bit firey...
Arguably Dynamo’s star has waned since Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s golden generation of the nineties reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, while Shakhtar have been in the ascendency.
The country’s new football order was more or less confirmed in the last UEFA Cup, when Shakhtar defeated their rivals on their way to becoming the first post-independent Ukrainian club to win a major European trophy, but Dynamo aren’t finished yet, and how they’d love to inflict a first defeat on their rivals at their own turf.
It will be a tall order though. The last time the Kyivites won in Donetsk, Sergei Rebrov scored.
NMTB prediction: Shakhtar win.
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