LONDON (Reuters) - One team looked like European champions when Chelsea beat Shakhtar Donetsk at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday - but that team was not last season’s Champions League winners from west London.
Despite losing 3-2 to a thumping header from late substitute Victor Moses in the dying seconds, Shakhtar’s Brazilian-influenced soccer left the impression that Mircea Lucescu’s men could do very well indeed in this season’s Champions League competition.
There is far too much football to be played to suggest that Shakhtar can emulate Chelsea and actually lift the European Cup at Wembley next May, but as Chelsea themselves proved last year, you do not have to be the best team in the competition to win it.
Even though they were crowned champions after their penalty shootout-win over Bayern Munich, Chelsea rarely played with anything like the vision, passing, speed and invention that Shakhtar displayed in front of more than 40,000 largely nervous home fans at Stamford Bridge.
To their credit, and as they did throughout their victorious campaign last year, Chelsea showed real strength of character and finished the stronger side, without the injured Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and sidelined captain John Terry.
But Chelsea’s success on the night was aided enormously by two bad goalkeeping errors from Andriy Pyatov, which Fernando Torres and Oscar capitalised on by scoring, and some poor defending at the death when Moses was allowed to rise unchallenged at a corner and head in the winner.
Overall it was a case of Shakhtar’s Brazilians out-shining Chelsea’s Brazilians, even though Ramires and Oscar had good games for the home team and the latter showed some audacious skill with his 40th minute goal.
Chesting down an eccentric headed clearance by Pyatov, Oscar thumped the ball on a perfect 35-metre trajectory that flew over the embarrassed keeper and into the back of the Shakhtar net to put Chelsea 2-1 up.
Seven weeks ago Oscar was the outstanding player on the field when he scored both Chelsea’s goals in a 2-2 draw with Juventus in their opening Group E game.
This time Shakhtar’s 24-year-old Brazilian midfielder Willian, who scored both Shakhtar’s goals, was the outstanding player on show, closely followed by his 27-year-old compatriot Fernandinho.
Along with their fellow Brazilians Luiz Adriano, the peppery 25-year-old striker, and the tireless 22-year-old midfielder Alex Teixeira, Shakhtar could hardly be more removed from the stereotypical eastern European sides of the past.
They still retain, however, their eastern European core of solid defence and sweet technique and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they could take the European Cup east for only the third time in its history after Steaua Bucharest of Romania won it in 1986 and Red Star Belgrade in 1991.
They are no strangers to European success either, winning the UEFA Cup in 2009, and have competed in the Champions League for six successive seasons.
Going into Wednesday’s game they had been unbeaten in 18 matches in all competitions this season, winning 17 and drawing one, while last Saturday they chalked up their 23rd successive league win dating back to last year.
Lucescu was naturally unhappy they lost and perplexed that his Brazilians were not being recognised in their homeland, where the national team are currently languishing in 13th place in the FIFA world rankings.
“It’s a pity that our players are not recognised back in Brazil; Willian and Fernandinho are players of a very high level,” Lucescu told reporters.
”For us Fernandinho is very important because he knows how to organise the game. Willian knows how to get in the spaces.
“And tonight he got the goals.”
Chelsea got the points, however, and they along with Juventus and Shakhtar are involved in a three-way fight to qualify.
If Shakhtar do reach the last 16, it will take something special to stop them, as Chelsea proved at the death. (Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Toby Davis)