Shakhtar Donetsk v. Olympique Marseille
First Leg: 9 April 2009 – RSK Olympyiskyi, Ukraine
Second Leg: 16 April 2009 – Stade Vélodrome, France.
This is the first of two matchups featuring teams from France and Ukraine (Dynamo Kiev and Paris Saint-Germain will kickoff two hours after these two). Both teams are in second place in their respective leagues. Both teams started out in the Champions League and entered the UEFA Cup after finishing third in their respective groups.
Shakhtar have been a consistent presence in Europe over the last several years. They’ve entered the UEFA Cup via the Champions League in eight out of the last nine years. Before this year, they had never advanced past the Round of 16, so this is new territory for them. They’ve proven their meddle against some top-notch quality teams, losing two close matches to Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League, and playing two competitive matches with Barcelona, including a 3-2 win against the already-qualified Catalan giants on the last day of the group phase. In the UEFA Cup, they defeated Tottenham (although Spurs definitely helped them by naming a reserve side during the second leg), and CSKA Moscow to reach this point.
Shakhtar have proven European goalscorers, like Olexandr Gladkiy (who had a brace against Barcelona), Jadson (who had four goals in Champions League play – although three of them were against FC Basel), Luiz Adriano, and Fernandinho. Their defense boasts Ukrainian internationals Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Oleksandr Kucher, Romanian international RÄƒzvan RaÅ£, and Polish international Mariusz Lewandowski. While they may not be household names, they have been extremely effective in European play, as Shakhtar have yet to give more than two goals in any of their Champions League or UEFA Cup matches.
Similarly, their opponents, Marseille, went up against some giants in Europe. They played two close matches with Liverpool in the Champions League, although their only win in the group stage was a 3-0 spanking of PSV Eindhoven. Apparently, that was enough to earn a UEFA Cup berth, and Marseille have taken advantage, eliminating Steve McClaren’s Twente Enschede in a shootout, and edging Ajax in extra time to get to the Quarterfinals.
Marseille’s habit of making great escapes could be either a blessing or a curse. A sign of inner strength or incredible luck. They could either be a team of destiny or a total fluke. There’s plenty of talent on this squad, especially rising young French stars like Hatem Ben Arfa and Mathieu Valbuena, as well as seasoned veterans like , Mamadou Niang, and skipper Lorik Cana. Brazilian striker Brandão recently transferred from Shakhtar, but is cup-tied and won’t be facing his former squad. Additionally, former Arsenal man Sylvain Wiltord is also cup-tied, having played for Rennes earlier in the competition. Their domestic form, however, has been excellent. They’re unbeaten in their last seven matches (as of the international break), including a resounding win against Paris St. Germain (3-1) and a narrow win against Bordeaux (1-0).
Will it be enough to get past the Ukrainians? We will see.