BELGRADE - Shakhtar Donetsk went top of
Champions League Group H with a 3-0 win at Partizan Belgrade on
Tuesday but are still not sure of a last-16 berth before the
final round of group matches on December 8.
The Ukrainian title holders will win the group and progress
to the knockout stage if they get a draw in their final match at
home to Portuguese debutants Braga, who helped their campaign
with a surprise 2-0 win over Arsenal.
Shakhtar could also go through with a defeat depending on
the outcome of Arsenal's home game against Partizan, who
stretched their winless group-stage streak to 11 matches with
another lacklustre performance.
"The gulf in class between us and Shakhtar was obvious and
it is also very clear that we are not good enough to compete at
this level," Partizan's dejected coach Aleksandar Stanojevic
said after his team suffered a fifth straight loss.
"The only way we can improve is if we keep playing teams of
Shakhtar's quality and in order to do that we have to qualify
for the group stage again next season," he added.
Partizan made a bright start on a chilly evening and came
close twice in the opening three minutes, but the visitors soon
found their rhythm and Olexiy Gai had Partizan keeper Vladimir
Stojkovic at full stretch with a long-range effort.
Fellow midfielder Taras Stepanenko missed another good
chance for Shakhtar and Luiz Adriano's swerving shot sailed just
wide on the stroke of half-time.
It was one-way traffic after the interval as the 2009 UEFA
Cup winners ran Partizan ragged with crisp passing and superior
ball control on a slippery surface in front of 20,000 vociferous
They were finally silenced when Stepanenko fired Shakhtar
ahead in the 52nd minute. He blasted the ball into the roof of
the net from close range after Partizan had failed to clear a
The home team collapsed after falling behind and it was no
surprise that Brazilian forward Jadson made it 2-0 seven minutes
later, when he steered in a low cross by Croatia wing-back
Darijo Srna from the right.
The third goal was almost a carbon copy, with Srna's
Brazilian-born compatriot Eduardo sliding in after good work by
"We soaked up some heavy pressure from Partizan in the first
half but after the break we demonstrated our quality and got the
win we deserved," Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu said.
"Braga's win over Arsenal means the three-way race for two
berths in the last 16 will go down to the wire and although we
have the edge, we will take nothing for granted.
"We have become a soundly structured and well-organised club
down the years, while our players are hungry for success in
Europe and play with great motivation to prove their worth.
"Many of our former players have moved on to bigger clubs
while those still here always want to show that they deserve to
play in Europe's top flight."
Shakhtar's rise from relative obscurity began in 1996, when
wealthy Ukrainian businessman Rinat Akhmetov took over as the
club's president and his investments started to pay dividends
when they won their first league title in 2002.
The five-times Ukraine champions have since had the upper
hand over traditional rivals Dynamo Kiev but Lucescu said money
was not the decisive factor in their rapid progress.
"We nurture a very distinguishable style of play and we
believe that's what keeps skilful and talented players in our
ranks," he said.
"We will continue to do that and we are confident that we
will keep reaping the rewards of our hard work."
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