[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Group leader Shakhtar Donetsk hosts Juventus in Ukraine on Wednesday where freezing temperatures are expected for the final round's hottest ticket. The Italian champion needs at least a tie to guarantee progression, and eliminate reigning titleholder Chelsea.
VIEWING: Shakhtar Donetsk-Juventus- Wednesday 2:45pm ET, FoxSoccer2Go.com
Group E: Shakhtar Donetsk has 10 points, Juventus 9, Chelsea 7 and FC Nordsjaelland 1. Chelsea hosts FCN on Wednesday. Juve is the only team remaining that can still win its group, or be eliminated.
Scenarios: Juve advances with a tie, and wins the group by beating Shakhtar. Chelsea advances only by beating FCN as Juve loses, which eliminates Juve. Shakhtar has advanced, and wins the group with a tie or better.
Prevailing wisdom said Shakhtar would finish third in Group E, as Chelsea and Juventus battled for first. Thinking that ignored the vast quantities the Ukrainian power brings to bear in a couple coveted categories -- talented Brazilians and cold hard cash.
Shakhtar has nine Brazilian players, all attackers or midfielders. Fernandinho is an incredible box-to-box player who appeared for the Selecao, as did Ilsinho, and Willian, who has four goals in five UCL games. Alex Teixeira andDouglas Costa are creative threats, althoughLuiz Adriano is suspended in this game for his deplorable goal after a drop-ball in the 5-2 win at FCN.
How does a mining town in a frigid climate 7,000 miles from Sao Paolo, like Donetsk, lure all these gifted Brazilians to play for Mircea Lucescu, formerly of Inter Milan? Its not rocket science.
"Of course money is the main thing," Fernandinho told AFP
Shakhtar’s owner, Rinat Akhmetov, is worth $16 billion, or $4 billion more than Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich. Juve’s 3-0 domination of Chelsea during round five in Italy saw Abramovich fire another coach. Roberto Di Matteo, who won Chelsea’s first Champions League trophy last spring, was let go, andRafa Benitez took over.
Juventus and Shakhtar tied in Turin two months ago, 1-1. While disappointed with the draw, Andrea Pirlo, Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio, Kwadwo Asamoah and Juve’s goalscorers by committee, may be happy to see another tie on Wednesday. But the two-time European Cup winner must choose between pushing for a victory, which would earn it a second-place opponent in the knockout stages, or settling for a draw, which may be hard to come by.
What to Watch: These two teams may feel each other out for a bit, but there will be goals, and the first will put immense pressure on someone. Either Shakhtar will be in danger of losing its top seed at home, or Juve will be facing elimination, there should be high drama either way.
Shakhtar has won every home game this season, and this is one of two its had circled for months, it beat Chelsea 2-1 in the other. Shakhtar tops the group with a tie, but its fans, its billionaire owner and its bevy of Brazilians are gifted, confident, and starving for the spotlight. They will be seeking to impress, and that means playing to win.
However, Juventus is incredibly rugged, physical, and refuses to lose. It went 49 straight games unbeaten in Serie A, and proved it again during the opening game at Chelsea, recovering from two goals down, and leaving with a 2-2 tie.
That comeback at Stamford Bridge could be the reason Chelsea goes home instead of Juve --- if this game ends in a thoroughly entertaining draw, as I predict.
Notes: Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with 18 goals in 17 league games, is a non-Brazilian on Shakhtar to keep your eye on. ... After earning its first Champions League title last spring, Chelsea could be the first winner ever knocked out after the group stages -- just six months later. ... Persistent rumors suggest Juve will pursue a big money striker in January, if it advances, which would make it a real threat to win the tournament, as it will also have its head coach back. Antonio Conte’s suspension ends on Saturday.