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Barcelona victory ‘important for Ukrainian football’, says Shakhtar Donetsk coach



Shakhtar Donetsk have played home games away from their Donbass Arena in Donetsk, now occupied by Russia, since 2014. PHOTO: AFP

Shakhtar Donetsk coach Marino Pusic said his side’s shock 1-0 Champions League victory over Barcelona in Hamburg on Tuesday was “important for Ukrainian football”.

Shakhtar have played home games away from their Donbass Arena in Donetsk, now occupied by Russia, since 2014.

But playing the match hundreds of miles away in Germany did not prevent Danylo Sikan securing a famous victory over Barcelona with his dipping header in the 40th minute.

“Unfortunately, because of the situation in the country, you can call this a home game but for us it is a tremendous part – the travelling, and sometimes we need one or two days extra to recover of course,” said Pusic.

“It is not so easy… It is important also for Ukrainian football to represent the country in Europe like we did tonight.”


Barcelona still lead Group H on nine points ahead of second-placed Porto, who beat Royal Antwerp 2-0, on head-to-head record, but missed the chance to wrap up qualification for the last 16 with two games to spare.

“We can see we’re in a bit of a footballing rut, we have to do a reset,” said Barca coach Xavi. “We played a bad game, we have to admit it.”

He also admitted that his team had wasted a good chance to progress.

“After two years without qualifying for the last 16, today is a missed opportunity,” he continued.

“It’s the most inopportune moment. There are a lot of demands (on us), today we couldn’t fail and we failed.”


Shakhtar, on six points, gave their knockout stage hopes a boost, but also put themselves in pole position to at least finish third ahead of Antwerp and move into the Europa League.

“If we achieve that (last 16), it would be fantastic. If not then to stay in Europe would also be a great achievement, amazing achievement even, for this club under those circumstances,” added Pusic.

After failing to progress from the group stage for two seasons, Barcelona had won their first three matches this term.

However, Shakhtar held their own from the start, shutting down their uninspired visitors, who produced just one shot on target.

The hosts then took the lead a few minutes before half-time, easily slicing Barcelona open when Giorgi Gocholeishvili took advantage of Barcelona left-back Marcos Alonso being a long way out of position.


The full-back crossed for Sikan, who beat Andreas Christensen in the air and headed beyond the reach of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

After the break and just before the hour mark Xavi took action, sending on speedsters Alejandro Balde and Lamine Yamal, as well as Pedri, looking to shake up his team’s lifeless display.

Barcelona were better but not bright enough, as Shakhtar goalkeeper Dmytro Riznyk enjoyed a quiet night.

Shakhtar’s latest young Brazilian winger, Newerton, scored a stunning second in the final stages but it was chalked off for offside – it would have been a superb way to crown a glorious night for Pusic’s men.

Nevertheless, the Ukrainian champions celebrated joyously at full-time and now sit only three points behind Barcelona.


“We do things step by step and we stay humble,” said Pusic, who was proud of his team’s defensive effort.

“We like to attack and we had several good moments tonight, but game organisation comes first.

“If you concede easily at this level there is not a high chance you will win.”

Barcelona midfielder Oriol Romeu, meanwhile, said his team had to look in the mirror after their disappointing display.

“Every defeat is a warning,” he told Movistar. “We have to be self-critical and see what we did wrong, to correct it quickly.”




Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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