The game was level 2-2 between Shakhtar Donestsk and Rapid Wien at the Arena Lvivwith only 6 minutes left when Rapid’s striker, Robert Beri?, missed a header into goal from two meters. Then with just seconds to go Rapid missed another chance when Pyatov fumbled, the ball fell right to Philip Prosenik’s feet but heonly managed to hit the post from about one meter out.
Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu later admitted that he had never seen this much luck before. At the press conference after the game he made the following statement: “I want to admit that in my entire football career, i’ve never had the kind of luck as they enjoyed in the dying seconds today. Surprisingly, Beri? failed to head it home from six-meter range. And then there was a moment when Andriy palmed off the ball in front of him and Rapid players just hit the post. Pyatov must have been nervous in that episode which is inexcusable for his level.”
But the 2-2 draw meant that Shakhtar advanced to the UEFA Champions League group stage for the sixth time in a row, as Shakhtar had won the first leg of the playoff match in Vienna a week earlier.
Shakhtar are still playing in exile in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv as the unstable situation in the East of the country still makes it impossible for them to return to their home in Donetsk. This has meant that the club has taken a big finanical hit, as the large crowds at the Donbass Arena meant that the club was one of the very few clubs in the post-Soviet space that actually generated decent revenue through ticket sales.
At the beginning of last season Shakhtar was positively received at the city of Lviv, and despite playing 600 miles away from home, Shakhtar was able to attract more fans to their games than their current city rival Karpaty Lviv (8,417 vs. 6,300).
Yet club CEO Sergei Palkin has been clear that playing in the Arena Lviv, even in front of a full-capacity crowd, in the Champions League, has cost the club money. This is due to the fact that the rental costs of the Arena Lviv are higher than what the club can generate in terms of tickets sales, especially as Shakhtar has sold tickets in Lviv below market value. But according to Palkin Shakhtar is willing to take the financial hit as they view it as a social responsibility to give away tickets for cheaper prices in order to make it possible for people all over Ukraine to afford match tickets. But after Shakhtar dropped out of the Champions League last season Lvivians stopped attending matches.
While Shakhtar enjoyed a full stadium against Rapid the reality has been very different in the Ukrainian Premier League where the Shakhtar rarely was able to attract more than a few thousand visitors to the Arena Lviv. Some officials at Shakhtar are now considering moving the team elsewhere, and even last weekend’s home game against Dnipro was played in Odessa rather than Lviv. Yet it is unlikely that UEFA would permit Shakhtar to re-settle permanently in Odessa, and it is therefore a certainty that Shakhtar will remain in Lviv for Champions League matches.
But because of Shakhtar’s difficult financial situation—caused by its exile to Lviv—the club has been forced to sell some of its brightest talents. Defensive midfielder Fernando moved to UC Sampdoria Genoa, striker Luiz Adriano left for AC Milan, and winger Douglas Costa was transferred to Bayern Munich (for €30 million), and Shakhtar in return has been quiet on the transfer market, and has only brought back the 32-year-old striker Eduardo da Silva.
With this in mind Shakhtar’s qualification to the Champions League was a financial necessity; the club’s ticket to the group stage not only secures financial stability, but is also a huge morality boost for many Ukrainians who have turned to football as a distraction from events that are taking place in the eastern parts of the country. Hence, Shakhtar group game matches against Paris Saint-Germain, Malmö, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid will be a wonderful respite for a club, and its country, from a bleak political reality.
About the author:
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at Futbolgrad.com.