Kiev the latest home away from home for Shakhtar in crunch match

kiev the latest home away from home for shakhtar in crunch match

Shakhtar Donetsk have not played a proper home match in more than four years, but holding their must-win final Champions League group game against Olympique Lyon in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev is something new even for them.

The 2009 UEFA Cup champions were forced to leave their Donbass Arena, one of the Euro 2012 venues, in 2014 in connection with the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, with Donetsk controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

They first played more than 1,000 kilometres away in Lviv, drawing only small crowds, before relocating in early 2017 to Kharkiv, around 300km away from Donetsk, where the atmosphere improved.

But with martial law now imposed in several regions of Ukraine over the ongoing conflict, including Kharkiv, the ruling body UEFA took no chances and switched their final Group F game to the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

Coach Paulo Fonseca said after Friday's 3-0 league win at Mariupol that daily life hasn't changed under martial law and that he has mixed feelings about the latest switch – more for the fans than the team which is used to playing elsewhere and covering large distances.

"We felt very good there [Kharkiv], especially in the Champions League matches, when the fans filled the stadium and supported us enthusiastically, which is absolutely important," he said.

"They decided to hold the match in Kiev. Most likely, we won’t have as many fans there as in Kharkiv, but this will by no means be an excuse for the future."

Midfielder Taras Stepanenko said: "We hope that if the fans have the possibility, they will support us in the decisive match of the Champions League season. We would like to see the maximum number of people there."

It remains to be seen how many fans will follow the national champions and league leaders over more than 700km from Donetsk to Kiev with its 70,000-seat stadium for the match Shakhtar have declared "more than the final."

Shakhtar rank third, two points behind the French, and must win in order to advance to the last 16 along with Manchester City. They drew 2-2 (after leading 2-0) against Lyon in France but are yet to win at home, drawing with bottom side Hoffenheim and losing against City.

Lyon only require a draw to progress, and are unbeaten away from home, surprisingly winning at City and drawing at Hoffenheim.

Shakhtar aim to reach the knock-outs for the third time, being quarter-finalists in 2011 and in the last 16 in the past campaign.

"We will meet with a very strong team featuring some excellent players. We know perfectly well that we are facing an extremely difficult task," he said.

"We must produce a perfect performance to make it further."

The best news for Fonseca is that his most influential Brazilian, midfielder and captain Taison, who scored a vital injury-time winner in Hoffenheim, should be fit to play.

"He had some minor back problems, but he will have enough time to recover," Fonseca said.

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