War-hit Shakhtar shaken but not stirred ahead of Roma clash

War refugees Shakhtar Donetsk head into their Champions League clash with Italian side AS Roma tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in high spirits despite a lack of signings and sparse match practice.

The war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatists has forced Shakhtar to play their home games far from their state-of-the-art Donbass Arena for the past four years.


Last year, Shakhtar's owners decided to switch their "home" venue to the eastern city of Kharkiv, 250km north-west of their native Donetsk.

Shakhtar, the only club from eastern Europe in the Champions League knockout stage, will host Roma at the 40,000-seat Metalist Kharkiv Stadium.

The Ukraine conflict has caused Shakhtar's billionaire owner Rinat Akhmetov to lose control of his coal-mining and metallurgical enterprises in the eastern rebel-held territories.

That has lightened the tycoon's wallet, hampering the signing of new players and forcing the club's bosses to focus on retaining their existing foreign players and fusing them with young homegrown talent.

Shakhtar have also had a lack of match practice due to a two-month winter break but warmed up for the Roma game by thrashing Chornomorets Odesa 5-0 when the domestic league resumed last Friday.

Shakhtar coach Paulo Fonseca, who replaced Romanian Mircea Lucescu in 2016, said he was pleased to avoid clubs such as Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.

He warned, however, that the back-in-form Serie A side would be a tough proposition.

He told the club's website. "(Roma) are a perfectly organised team that cope wonderfully with their tasks."

Roma, who are on a three-match winning run, could be without the versatile Alessandro Florenzi, who is ill. - AFP