Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
FourFourTwo's Eastern European football expert, Mark Gilbey, looks back upon Shakhtar’s quartet of fixtures in the English capital…
History is on Chelsea’s side when they face Shakhtar Donetsk this evening; that’s probably just as well considering how desperately Roberto Di Matteo could do with three points at Stamford Bridge.
The Pitmen have played four times in England – all against teams from London – but are yet to win in the English capital. It is also 27 matches since the Blues last lost at home in the Champions League group stages, when 10-man Beşiktaş – then led by Shakhtar manager Mircea Lucescu – beat Chelsea 2-0 during the 2003/04 season, their first of the Roman Abramovich era.
Arsenal 3-2 Shakhtar DonetskChampions League group stages, matchday two20th September 2000
Arsenal supporters were in expectant mood ahead of Shakhtar’s visit. After all, the Gunners had just returned to Highbury following a couple of somewhat disappointing Champions League campaigns at Wembley, and their Ukrainian opponents arrived as the lowest-ranked team in the group stages.
The Shakhtar team that travelled to North London that day bore little resemblance to the modern side. Rinat Akhmetov’s considerable wealth had only really just begun to reshape the football landscape of eastern Ukraine. This young Shakhtar side were making their debut in the group stages, having already battled through two qualifying rounds, and the club’s first league title would not come for another couple of years. What’s more, the late Viktor Prokopenko didn’t have any Brazilian attackers to test an Arsenal backline missing the injured Tony Adams.
Instead, Ukrainian international Oleh Luzhny, signed from Dynamo Kyiv the previous May for £1.8 million, deputised alongside Martin Keown at the heart of defence. Shakhtar began with a 3-0 defeat at home to Lazio and although Sven-Göran Eriksson conceded that they “had their moments and perhaps Arsenal should be aware of that”, a comfortable win was predicted for Wenger’s players who were rumoured to be on a £9,000-a-man win bonus per march in Europe that season.
They certainly made all the early running. Thierry Henry had a goal ruled out for offside after just three minutes, and with Patrick Vieira bossing the midfield it seemed very much a case of when, not if, Arsenal would take the lead. Shakhtar, to their credit, defended resolutely and goalkeeper Yuriy Virt was in inspired form. But despite one-way traffic Shakhtar opened the scoring on 26 minutes when Aleksei Bakharev’s free-kick took a wicked deflection off Robert Pirès and wrong-footed David Seaman. Highbury was stunned, save for a small pocket of 500 noisy Ukrainians.
And it soon got better for the visitors when Andriy Vorobey doubled their lead, but the game turned on the stroke of half-time. First, Serhiy Popov clattered Vieira on a marauding run from midfield and received a second yellow card; then Mykhaylo Starostyak fouled Sylvain Wiltord in the box. Virt saved Henry’s spot-kick, but Wiltord rammed in the rebound.
Arsenal dominated after the break with an extra man, only to be continually thwarted. Just as it was starting to seem like ‘one of those nights’ for the Gunners, the Londoners pinched two late goals thanks to the most unlikely of sources. Wenger had four strikers on the pitch, but it was Keown who made the difference, bundling in a Silvinho corner with what looked like his hip to equalise, before blasting in the winner after a spot of trickery from Nwankwo Kanu. It was Arsenal’s 50th European victory in their 100th match.
By the time of the return game on matchday six, Arsenal had already qualified for the second group stage and just 50 diehard Gooners made the 3,500-mile roundtrip to Donetsk. But for Shakhtar it was far from a dead-rubber; they knew a win would see them progress to the Uefa Cup at the expense of Sparta Prague. A lively capacity crowd of 32,000 braved the elements at a Shakhtyor Stadion exposed to the elements on a bitterly cold November evening. But they wouldn't leave disappointed as goals from Atelkin, Vorobey and Olexiy Bielik gave Shakhtar a deserved 3-0 victory.Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Shakhtar DonetskUefa Cup round of 32, second leg26th February 2009
It would be another nine years before Shakhtar returned to England, once again, north London was the destination. Tottenham Hotspur faced an altogether different Shakhtar side though, mainly thanks to Lucescu. Akhmetov went through five managers over a seven-year period before hiring the wily Romanian in 2004, but has since given him the money and, just as importantly, the time to reshape the club.
A third-place finish in their Champions League group behind Barcelona and Sporting Lisbon saw Shakhtar parachute into the Uefa Cup, where they faced the English League Cup holders in the first knock-out round.
Like Arsenal, Spurs lost in Donetsk. Late goals from Yevhen Seleznyov and Jádson at the Olympiyskiy Stadion – the sparkling new Donbass Arena across the road had yet to be finished – put Shakhtar in control of the first leg. In both matches recently-appointed Spurs manager Harry Redknapp fielded unfamiliar line-ups; he saw the Uefa Cup as third on his list of priorities behind the upcoming Carling Cup final and the club’s battle with relegation from the Premier League. The first leg was the beginning of six games in 17 days that included Spurs’ defence of the League Cup against Manchester United less than 72 hours after Shakhtar’s visit to White Hart Lane.
Shakhtar’s Brazilians looked dangerous on the break. But Jon Obika flashed a shot wide of Andriy Pyatov’s goal that seemed to rouse Spurs, and they looked the more likely team to opening the scoring as the first half drew to a close. That pattern continued after the interval. The lively Obika and Gareth Bale both had chances and Spurs saw a penalty appeal turned down when Fernandinho appeared to foul Fraizer Campbell.
They got their reward 10 minutes into the second half. Giovani dos Santos controlled Campell’s flick-on some 40 yards out and burst forward before blasting in a fierce shot from just outside the box. It was the Mexican’s first goal since his £8.6 million transfer from Barcelona that summer. Spurs’ fringe players were acquitting themselves well and dos Santos almost levelled the tie, but just failed to connect with Gilberto’s cross.
As Spurs pushed for a second, gaps appeared at the back. With four minutes remaining Fernandinho settled the tie by coming in from the right and firing a low shot past Heurelho Gomes to give Shakhtar a 3-1 aggregate victory. It was the start of a glorious run to final which saw victories over CSKA Moscow, Marseille and arch-rivals Dynamo Kyiv.
Werder Bremen were their opponents in the final. Luiz Adriano gave Shakhtar the lead in the first half, only for Naldo to equalise and with no goals after the break, the match went to extra-time. Seven minutes into the first period Jádson’s goal settled the tie, earning Shakhtar their first piece of European silverware in the 38th and last ever Uefa Cup final.
Fulham 2-1 Shakhtar DonetskEuropa League round of 32, first leg18 February 2010
The embarrassing prelude to this fixture was played out a couple of days earlier at Harrods. Snooty doormen at the famous department store – then owned by Fulham chairman Mohammed al Fayed – turned away the Shakhtar squad. "The staff said that the group of customers was too big and suspicious,” said Shakhtar. “All of them were wearing similar tracksuits. The players explained that this was a football team and they had no habit of taking tuxedos to the training camp to go shopping. But those explanations were fruitless.” Both al Fayed and Harrods apologised, citing a busy store as the reason behind their staff denying the large party entry.
Shakhtar had, of course, won the Uefa Cup the previous season and started as favourites against an injury-ravaged Fulham side. Paul Konchesky, Clint Dempsey, John Pantsil, Kagisho Dikgacoi and Andrew Johnson all missed the first leg, while new signings Nicky Shorey and Stefano Okaka were cup-tied. But Roy Hodgson’s side had not lost in 12 European matches at Craven Cottage and it took them just three minutes to open the scoring. A neat passing move was finished off by Zoltán Gera – himself an injury doubt – whose low shot crept past Pyatov.
That stirred Shakhtar into action. Because of the winter break in Ukraine this was their first competitive fixture in two months, but Shakhtar soon found their rhythm. They were playing the brand of attacking football that had won them last year’s tournament and it came as no surprise when they pulled level.
Predictably, it was a goal made and scored in South America. Their Brazilian contingent – five started the match – were playing a key role, especially Jádson and Ilsinho. On 32 minutes the latter found Luiz Adriano, and the striker slipped past Aaron Hughes and then Mark Schwarzer to put the ball into an empty net. It had been nothing less than Shakhtar deserved.
After the break, however, the Cottagers were back on top, but chances were still few and far between. So it was no surprise that it took a moment of brilliance for the winner. Bobby Zamora had earned rave reviews that season, and there was a growing call for the striker to be included in Fabio Capello’s squad for the upcoming World Cup. He received Gera’s flick 25 yards from goal in the 63rd minutes and smashed in a strike off the underside of the bar to restore Fulham’s lead. It was Zamora’s 14th goal in 31 starts.
Without a competitive game that year, it seemed almost inevitable that Shakhtar would tire. Fulham could even have scored a third, but both Gera and Zamora saw headers saved by Pyatov. Lucescu threw on new signing Douglas Costa for the final quarter of an hour and the Brazilian reinvigorated the Shakhtar attack twice going close. Schwarzer also superbly denied Fernandinho late on to maintain Fulham’s lead.
“It's a big game for Fulham and we've come an awful long way,” said Hodgson. “If someone had said to me during my first season here when we were battling to stay in the Premier League that we'd beat Shakhtar in a couple of years, I'd have thought they were taking the mickey.”
A backs-to-the-wall performance at the Donbass Arena a week later saw Fulham become the first and, so far, only English club to get a result in Donetsk. Brede Hangeland’s first-half header was cancelled out by Jádson 21 minutes from time, but the Cottagers defended doggedly to earn a 1-1 draw and make the last 16. Fulham had begun their campaign in the third qualifying round against Lithuanian side Vėtra, but made it all the way to the final.
Former Romania international Lucescu has been Shakhtar boss since 2004
Arsenal 5-1 Shakhtar DonetskChampions League group stages, matchday three19 October 2010
Shakhtar found themselves paired with Arsenal again a decade after that last-gasp defeat at Highbury. But rather than rank outsiders, Shakhtar came to the Emirates as a regular fixture in the Champions League; this was their sixth appearance in the group stages.
Much like Abramovich, the competition is one Akhmetov is obsessed with, mainly because Shakhtar are a big fish in a small pond domestically. It is matches like these – a level up from the Ukrainian championship – in which Shakhtar measure themselves.
The fixture also pitted Wenger against Lucescu. This was a meeting of two respected coaches who share the same ethos and get their teams playing aesthetically pleasing neat, passing football. Going into this game on matchday three, both had beaten the other two sides in the group, Braga and Partizan Belgrade. Shakhtar were yet to concede, while Arsenal had already scored nine times.
Cesc Fábregas, back after missing a month through a hamstring injury, was instrumental as Arsenal dominated the opening exchanges. Despite Pyatov having previously kept two clean sheets, it was his error on that gifted Arsenal the lead when he fumbled Samir Nasri’s corner and Alex Song bundled the ball into the back of net.
Shakhtar had won seven straight European games, but Arsenal were unbeaten at home in the Champions League for four-and-a-half years and that record didn’t really come under any serious threat. Nasri controlled Song’s cross from the right, beat Darijo Srna and fired the ball past Pyatov to double their lead just a couple of minutes before half-time.
Douglas Costa looked lively after replacing Willian at half-time. Henrik Mkhitaryan combined with Luiz Adriano shortly after the restart but Łukasz Fabiański saved his drive and from then on, Arsenal were in control. Luiz Adriano brought down Johan Djourou in the box and Fábregas converted the penalty on 60 minutes. Jack Wilshere and Marouane Chamakh soon added two more. It was a record-breaking sixth consecutive Champions League game in which the Moroccan had scored.
Arsenal fans greeted all five goals enthusiastically, but one of evening’s biggest cheer came when Eduardo replaced Luiz Adriano on 64 minutes. The 27-year-old, who suffered a badly broken leg while playing for Arsenal against Birmingham City in 2008, remains a popular figure among supporters. “Welcome home, Eduardo” read one banner. But by then the Croatian could do little to influence the outcome of the game. Eduardo had promised not to celebrate if he scored at the Emirates – and kept his word – converting a cross that even the home fans cheered with great gusto towards the end of night.
Lucescu conceded Shakhtar had “gifted” Arsenal two goals, but not for the first time complained about the officials. “I have a great experience of European matches, so I am not surprised by such refereeing,” he said of Norwegian Svein Oddvar Moen in the post-match press conference. “If the English teams are officiated by Scandinavian referees, then, of course, the referees, who share the same Anglo-Saxon culture, will be on the side of the British. Many of them even study in England.”
Lucescu said that perhaps Scandinavian referees shouldn’t take charge of matches involving English teams; he couldn’t have got more neutral than Massimo Busacca from Switzerland for the return match at the Donbass Arena a fortnight later. A 2-1 victory put Shakhtar level with Arsenal on nine points at the top of the table. They won their remaining two fixtures to top Group H and reach the knockout stages for the first time, while Arsenal finished as runners-up.
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