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Posted by Isaiah Cambron on 03/18/2011

The Champions League draw is in and many cules are no doubt breathing sighs of relief: Shakhtar Donetsk came out of the hopper instead of a tougher opponent. Except that Shakhtar is a tougher opponent and the route to Wembley is a potential minefield for everyone at this stage. And, indeed, overlooking the Ukrainian outfit and focusing on potential semi-final dates with Real Madrid (who face Spurs) would be folly in the extreme.

This set of matches, which take place April 6 and 12, gives us the opportunity to look forward and back, as I love to do. We’re heading to Donetsk where we will meet Dmytro Chygrynskiy for the first time since we returned him to that club. For those of you with short memories, we purchased Dima two summers ago for €25m in what amounts to a bungled transfer. He was cup-tied, having played in Shakhtar’s Champions League qualifier a few days before the transfer and subsequently failed to make many appearances in either La Liga or the Copa del Rey, amassing a total of 14 appearances.

We faced off against Dima in the UEFA Super Cup the day before he officially transferred. The rest of Shakhtar was there too, of course, but most fans were concentrated on the long-haired giant in defence. That was the middle of the sextuple run and Barça was going through a transition period, having purchased Zlatan Ibrahimovic and discarded Samuel Eto’o. Dima was regarded with some apprehension because of his price tag, but he acquitted himself well that day, neither giving ground nor injuring his future teammates.

When Barça sold Dima back for €15m in an attempt to both recuperate a part of what was considered a failed experiment and generate cash, there were sad, resigned shakes of the head from this particular commentator. It is naturally impossible to know the true state of affairs behind-the-scenes, but if various press reports are to be believed (and in Spain, why would you ever doubt their veracity?), Guardiola was not in favour of sending Chygrynskiy back to Shakhtar, but was overruled by Sandro Rosell in what amounted to a financial decision and, perhaps, a power play on the new president’s part. All that is merely speculation, of course, as is the assertion that Chygrynskiy was heartbroken at having to leave.

Regardless, he’s reunited with manager Mircea Lucescu, a Romanian who has been in charge of Shakhtar since 2004. Lucescu, a former striker, has been successful in several countries, but he seems to have found his home in the Ukraine. Under his guidance, Shakhtar has won the league 4 times (missing only 2006-07), the Ukrainian Cup twice (03-04 and 07-08), the Ukrainian Super Cup 3 times, and the UEFA Cup once (2008-09). That’s a fairly impressive haul for a team whose squad contains almost no players the average fan can name.

There’s Dima, of course, and Darijo Srna … and Eduardo da Silva, Tomas Hubschman, Razvan Rat, Willian, Luiz Adriano, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Andriy Pyatov, to name some of them. They’re no slouches, by any measure, which you know full well because they’re in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. No matter what you think of their CL group (Arsenal, Braga, and Partizan) or their last-16 opponents (Roma), they’re as far as they are because they’re good and deserve both respect and our total focus.

Despite being blown out by Arsenal in London 5-1, they beat them in Donetsk and ended up winning the group with 5 wins and 1 loss. And yes, Group H was weak, but no group is ever easy and no team can ever be overlooked because their route wasn’t as tough as another one. Anyone can win on any given day and forgetting that Shakhtar took the mighty Barcelona to extra time in the UEFA Super Cup would be foolish. If not for Pedro’s strike, we might not be the team of the Sextuple.

And then there’s Guardiola claiming Shakhtar is the best team in the Champions League and that they've lost exactly 0 of their last 53 home matches. That's nothing to scoff at, even if the quality of their opposition in the Ukrainian Premier League isn't up to the standard of the major European leagues. How would they fair on a cold, rainy night in Stoke, after all? Despite their league's winter holiday from November until March, they defeated Roma 6-2 on aggregate, including a 2-3 away win, though they did recently slip to their second league defeat in a 1-0 away loss to Karpaty. They're currently 1st, 9 points up on Dynamo Kiev with 9 matches left to play.

Nothing is ever easy at this stage. Ever. Barça has still to win a Champions League knockout stage away match under Guardiola, so a draw would be about as good as could be expected, though both teams should be going for it given their goal scoring abilities. The one thing, though, is that now we won't face a gauntlet of London-based teams ahead of a Wembley final (had we drawn Chelsea or Tottenham, we might have been able to face off against 3 opponents from that fair city in a row). Instead, we'll go the Ukraine in April, where temperatures fluctuate between 5-13C (41-56F) on average. Not too bad.

And a quick note: Eric Abidal had surgery yesterday (Thursday) for a liver tumour. He is maintaining his privacy, as is his right, but the club published an official post saying the surgery was a success and he could be out of the hospital within a week. Twitter has been filled with the #animsAbidal hashtag and the outpouring of love and best wishes from players and fans across the world has been quite touching. While I hope that he returns to play for us, this is where sports becomes meaningless: the most important thing is for him to be healthy.


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Comments

Posted by bruno yondo on 03/18/2011

well i like the parings,is not really bad that way.sharter are not small team,they are great n big to send roma out.though is teams like that,that are easily to send barce out but i done think such can happen,i taught barce will meet inter milan or chealse again,an even if barce cross,they will not meet still finals.

Posted by Arsenal on 03/19/2011

Good to know that tumor didn't influence his grip on RvP's neck at the Camp Nou.

I'm not bitter.

Posted by lokman on 03/19/2011

shaktar's home crowd is the best in the world.no wonder they have 53 unbeaten home game.i think even barca cant handle shaktar at home.

Posted by Mustapha Haruna on 03/19/2011

It was a nice draw but, i will like to remind barca that Shakhter is not a team like real madrid.So,they should expect a tougher game from.for second Elclasico,Barca should forget mourihno mind games.They are going to carry the day even cupa derel.Good luck.

Posted by sam on 03/19/2011

Interesting observations. "How would they fair on a cold, rainy night in Stoke, after all?" was my highlight. I"d love to see Shakhtar play to their strengths rather than try to match Xavi/Iniesta pass for pass.They have a bunch of brazilians in their squad, so maybe tiki-taka vs samba-lite.

Posted by suspicion on 03/19/2011

Why is Bacelona always playing away first? Is this sheer luck or some diabolical plot?

Posted by 334 ultimate on 03/19/2011

@suspicion
Barcelona was at home during the first leg of the 09 semis v. chelsea if u remember. U r prob an Arsenal or Madrid fan that is just bitter at Barca's promise and success.

Posted by ogpunkbuster on 03/20/2011

Barca will have there hands full In shaktar but in camp nou
Barca will win comfortably

Posted by olasupo on 03/20/2011

barca will at least get a draw at shalktah's home and will surely be a sheer luck at now camp.

Posted by olasupo on 03/20/2011

barca will at least get a draw at shalktah's home and will surely be a sheer luck at now camp.

Posted by foreverMADRID on 03/20/2011

Barca will go out to shakhtar..i don't thiknk your makeshift defense will handle shakhtar's talented brazilian front-line!This is were the champs league ends for barca..mark my words

Posted by Bakefowl on 03/20/2011

Barca has the easiest tie of the wrong... Kudoos for trying to hype this one sided tie

Posted by omar williams on 03/20/2011

Barca will deffinately 'take' this compettition away!!! THUMBS UP!!!

Posted by Gris Gris on 03/21/2011

"how would they fair on a cold, rainy night at stoke?" That's your statement! The context around that statement suggested you were referring to Shaktar, not Barca. I think the question would much better be posed to Barca. How would they fair on a cold, wet night at Stoke. One can only guess...but I would guess Shaktar would fair a hell of a lot better than Barca!

Posted by dj alex on 03/21/2011

Yeah, I too couldn't get the gist of that Stoke reference. Everybody knows it's colder in Ukraine than in Stoke-on-Trent. And it's 'fare', not 'fair'.

Posted by Danimam on 03/21/2011

Abidal hardly makes mistake while on the pitch. He is a very good player. I am always confident when he is among the squad. Sharktar will suffer us but we will thrash them, in both away and home encounters , by God's grace.

Posted by Joni on 01/18/2012

Wow I must cfoness you make some very trenchant points.

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About
Francesc Tomas Hola! I am Francesc Tomas. Barcelona is my passion and home-town team. I consider myself lucky to have regularly attended matches at the Camp Nou since the early 1980s. My cousin played for the Barça youth academy, sharing the team with Don Andres Iniesta, which gave me a clear inside view of how our club works behind the scenes. I am also the founder, editor and columnist at Barcablog.com.

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