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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Shakhtar-Roma presents Champions League clash between two European middleweights

Both are selling clubs, but while Ukrainian side have been displaced from permanent home, opponents Roma will need no reminding of defeat at home in 2010/11

Shakhtar Donetsk's Fred with Ivan Petryak and teammates during training ahead of their Roma tie. Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters
Shakhtar Donetsk's Fred with Ivan Petryak and teammates during training ahead of their Roma tie. Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters

In the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League back in 2010/11, Shakhtar Donetsk came to the capital of Italy and gave notice of their arrival as European heavyweights. Uefa Cup winners two seasons earlier, Shakhtar sacked Rome: They had scored three goals at the Stadio Olimpico before half time.

If Roma retained a hope they were still in the tie with a second-half strike that made the final score 3-2, the first few minutes of the second leg in Donetsk put them right. By full time, the aggregate stood at 6-2.

Shakhtar’s bad luck was to then meet eventual champions Barcelona in the quarter-finals.

The really bad blows fell later on a club with a solid support-base, generous patronage and an intelligent recruitment model. Those blows came from heavy artillery.

Shakhtar have not been able to play European games in their own stadium, a high-spec arena built for and used at the 2012 European Championship since Ukraine was plunged into military conflict, with heavy Russian involvement and the east of the country particularly affected.

A local resident sits in his house, which was damaged by a recent shelling, in the city of Donetsk in Ukraine. Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters
A local resident sits in his house, which was damaged by a recent shelling, in the city of Donetsk in Ukraine. Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters

So it is to Kharkiv, Shakhtar’s temporary safe house that Roma have headed for Wednesday night’s re-run of that watershed match.

And if the Italian club, third in Serie A, would prefer few reminders of the lop-sided tie seven years ago, a glance at both line-ups is informative. It confirms these two middleweights in the European hierarchy are clubs of high turnover, whose success depends on their capacity for regeneration.

Shakhtar have for more than a decade been excellent scouters of talent, especially from Brazil, and while that tradition is maintained, there is perpetual change. The miners of eastern Ukraine are closely monitored in the west of Europe as suppliers valuable ore to clubs who want to finish at the top of the Champions League podium.

That famous rout of Roma in 2011 featured Willian (now of Chelsea), Douglas Costa (Juventus), who welcomed back from injury their colleague and compatriot Fernandinho (now of Manchester City) for the next round. Meanwhile, the Roma they beat are survived in the 2018 team by only Daniele de Rossi, the lifelong servant of the club.

De Rossi is wise enough to warn that on Wednesday night.

We should never underestimate Shakhtar," he said. "This is a team who beat Napoli, who are 16 points above us, in this Champions League already. They have knocked us out before and they are a club who always now how to build a strong squad again and again.”

Roma envy that quality.

They own up to being a selling club, too, when the offered prices reach a certain grade. In fact, you can assemble quite a top-10 of players who have been at Roma – some on loan – since their Donetsk debacle and moved on to clubs now in the last 16 of the Champions League: Szczesny, Benatia, Pjanic (now Juventus); Rudiger, Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Vermaelen, Digne (Barcelona); Marquinhos (PSG); Salah (Liverpool) and Lamela (Tottenham Hotspur).

Roma had to resist strong interest from Chelsea last month in Edin Dzeko, Serie A’s top scorer last season, and Dzeko has acknowledged his form suffered over a unsettling month of speculation and negotiation. But in the meantime, the Roma talent-spotters have had something to celebrate.

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Roma player Cengiz Under, left, has been in excellent form this season. Don Emmert / AFP
Roma player Cengiz Under, left, has been in excellent form this season. Don Emmert / AFP

He is Cengiz Under. He was signed under new director of football Ramon Rodriguez ‘Monchi’ Verdejo’s watch on the player’s 20th birthday last July, for less than €14 million (Dh63.4m) from Basaksehir.

He looks a shrewd catch. The Turk’s four goals in his last three league games, his slick cutting-in from the right wing have made him hard for manager Eusebio di Francesco leave out on Wednesday night. He is very much key to Roma’s return to winning ways, with three victories from three after a run of no wins in six.

“Under is playing with an exuberance and ability that makes things look easy,” Di Francesco said. “The important thing for us now is not to be satisfied with how we are performing.

"For me, the high point of the season was our group games against Chelsea – Roma registered six goals and took four points against the Premier League champions – and I’m looking for more nights like that.”

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