After the conclusion of the group matches in the 2014-15 Champions League competition, it is apparent that the Western European football teams are dominating once again to the detriment of their Eastern counterparts. Four qualifying teams from Germany plus three apiece from Spain and England underline the strength of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga while France, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland are also represented. However, the sole team from the Eastern bloc to emerge from the group stages is Shakhtar Donetsk and that is despite a war enraging in that region.
Such has been the scale of the conflict between government troops and opposition forces in troubled Eastern Ukraine during the past months that the Shakhtar Donetsk players have been forced to leave the city to play football. Some of the most intense fighting has occurred in and around the city and now the team play home matches at Lviv where there is more widespread pro-western support as opposed to opinion in the East.
There is also the additional factor that the first team squad contains almost equal representation of Ukrainian and Brazilian players with the South Americans preferred in the attacking roles. The first Brazilian to be lured to Donetsk was Brandao who moved onto play for Marseille and St Etienne but not before Mircea Lucescu was appointed head coach at Donetsk in 2004. He further developed Brandao’s undoubted skills and helped by his ability to learn Portuguese, additional recruits from Brazil were defined as preferred club policy, some of whom were unknown on the international stage.
Lucescu’s aim was to recruit young players from Brazil and harness their potential into becoming Champions League performers and it would appear that his methods are working. His reputation soared in that country when one his first signings in 2005, Francelino Matuzalem, became the leader of the team and so began a further influx of players from that country.
Although Dinamo Kiev are still the team to beat in the domestic league, it is the of presence of Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League knockout phase which is testament to the workings of Lusescu who has now served the club for 10 years as head coach whereas in the equal number of years prior to his appointment, there had been 11 occupants of the role.
During the current Champions League campaign, Lucescu guided his team to second place in Group H behind Porto with Luiz Adriano netting 9 of the 15 goals scored by his team with his fellow countryman Fred failing to score a solitary goal. Shakhtar arguably occupied one of the weaker groups but at least they have improved upon last season’s third place in Group A behind Manchester United and Bayer Leverkusen.
How much further they progress will be determined when the competition resumes early next year but none of the remaining teams will wish to face the Brazilian attack from Ukraine.