Big games in any country usually have their fair amount of sub-plots. The Ukrainian Superkubok (Super Cup) between Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv had a fair few more.
With the raft of new signings, Dynamo's new club crest, the unrepentant gamesmanship of Dynamo left-back Goran Popov, Shakhtar's Fernandinho recovering from a lengthy injury and a destabilising Dynamo plane journey, it was difficult to assess how any soccer would manage to squeeze itself in. The main plot was in danger of being overrun by the various sub-plots, like a game of Grand Theft Auto; where the intense desire to raise stacks of money overtakes the need to complete the main story line.
The match itself provided a worthy spectacle, quite literally kicking-off the Ukrainian domestic season for another marathon of thirty matches to determine the champion of Ukraine, the European hopefuls and to consign two of the sixteen teams to the misery of relegation. Logic would suggest that at least one of the two teams competing in the Superkubok would be here again next year. A thought underlined as Dynamo's eventual 3-1 victory over the current national champions gave them their fifth Superkubok in the past eight years.
The match, held at the neutral Stadion Vorskla in Poltava, provided a captivating and energetic start to what the Ukrainian footballing authorities hope will culminate in well-managed and successful European Championships in the summer of 2012. The net rippled twice in the first fourteen minutes as Dynamo's right-winger Gusev converted a penalty before one of Shakhtar's many Brazilians, Fernandinho, equalised. From then on, the petty scuffles - many induced by that man Popov - and the referee's willingness to brandish his yellow card in any direction halted the flow of the match.
That is, until Pape Diakhaté, returning from a relatively unsuccessful loan spell at Lyon, headed a looping free kick into the bottom corner of Shakhtar's net. This gave Dynamo a 2-1 lead after thirty-two minutes and the impetus to see the game out, as Artem Milevskiy's neat finish awarded them the 3-1 victory in the game's closing stages. The result flattered Dynamo but the performance will no doubt give manager Yuri Semin the belief that Dynamo can overcome Shakhtar's stranglehold on the title and reign supreme once again.
One worry for the Dynamo boss, however, will be the fitness of debutant Lukman Haruna who impressed in his brief appearance, only to be taken off injured shortly after half time with what looked like an internal calf problem. Although, the problem didn't stop the former Monaco midfielder hobbling around in elated celebration after the final whistle.
For Shakhtar's Mircea Lucescu the coming season brings pressure on both domestic and international fronts as the Miners are expected to retain their title as well as progressing in the Champions League. This pressure has been ramped up by the promising Ukrainian under-21 defender Rakitskiy who has vowed to win a Champions League title in his time at the club. Possibly the biggest headache Lucescu faces, though, is his forward line. The club have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to attackers with Luiz Adriano, Eduardo, Marcelo Moreno and new signings Dentinho and Yevgen Seleznyov all vying to be the focal point of Shakhtar's fluid 4-2-3-1 system. Basic mathematics tells you five definitely doesn't go into one and here lies the challenge facing the manager. Either switch from the successful 4-2-3-1 of recent years or face marginalising talented forward players desperate for time on the pitch.
Whatever struggles the two sides face in the coming months of the season, it is almost certain that theirs will be the two names at the top of the table come the end. If the destination is almost predictable, the journey is most certainly not, as the other fourteen Premier League teams seek to bring down the two dominators. Something the big spending Dnipro, managed by former Tottenham, Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow manager Juande Ramos, will be intent on doing.
It all begins on July 10th, with Dynamo facing Metalist Kharkiv and Shakhtar meeting Obolon. The beginning, that is, of what could be a season of sub-plots.