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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Better to see once

Shakhtar 2, Sevilla 3
20 March, 2007 - 00:00

Ukrainian television failed to show the UEFA Cup second knockout round, 1st-leg match between Sevilla, the Spanish championship’s “fifth best,” and Ukraine’s champion Shakhtar Donetsk. The crowds of soccer fans could only put their trust in eyewitness accounts of those who were in Seville’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium and saw the two teams tie 2: 2. Naturally, our compatriots heard the comments of our side, which claimed that it was just a fluke that the Ukrainian club could not beat the last year’s UEFA Cup winner in an away match. Of course, the blame was laid on the referee, who awarded Sevilla an unfair (of course) last-minute penalty kick.

It turns out that the champions of Ukraine found it quite easy to do at home what they failed do to away, all the more so as the procedure allowed Shakhtar to qualify for the next round even with a score of 0: 0 or 1: 1 in the Donetsk match. The only alarming note was that no one really saw the game in Seville, while the numbers may be deceptive.

One way or another, Donetsk’s stadium Lokomotyv, suddenly renamed Olympic not so long ago (fortunately, not Wembley), drew packed audiences last Thursday night, with the VIP box filled with the likes of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and MP Rinat Akhmetov, the owner of the Shakhtar club and Ukraine’s richest person, according to Forbes.

Everything could have ended in the first half-time — and not in favor of the “coal miners,” unfortunately. The Spanish team, with fewer Brazilians than Shakhtar, grabbed the ball and began to attack in a bid to score a winning goal. The home team was somewhat inconspicuous. All they were doing was kicking the ball as far away from their net as possible after every dangerous attack. As a result, the ball swished past the Shakhtar net several times, hit the post once, and the Ukrainian club’s goalie Shust made a few saves.

The impression was that Shakhtar was trying to wear down the Spaniards. But what if Sevilla had scored at least once for every five perfect opportunities? The audience was looking forward to the second half of the game in the hope that the stronger side would be luckier. The Spanish players looked tired early in the second half. So Shakhtar launched two attacks. In the first one, Bielik shot wide, and in the second one he shot randomly along the net. The pass was unsuccessful: Shakhtar’s captain Matuzalem, a Brazilian international, had already run forward. Unable to reach the ball, the player simply stuck out his heel, which sent the ball flying into the net on an incredible trajectory. I don’t think the world has ever seen a goal kicked this way in a European cup level match — with the heel of a foot stuck out during a lunge forward. Matuzalem is unlikely to repeat his feat.

Meanwhile, in raptures over this virtuoso goal, the spectators and maybe the team forgot that in soccer any goal scored is considered valid, no matter how the ball hits the net as long as no rules are broken. While everybody was exulting over Matuzalem’s wonderful goal, the Spaniards scored an ordinary goal. A lateral pass, a header by mid-fielder Maresca, and the ball was in the net.

The 1: 1 score also suited Shakhtar. So Sevilla went on attacking and creating opportunities to score a goal. The home team responded accordingly with counterattacks. In one of them, another Shakhtar Brazilian, Elano, scored the second goal, bringing the score to 2:1. The spectators were on cloud nine again, and the visiting players, exhausted as they were, continued to run forward in a desperate attempt to score again. And once everyone started believing in Shakhtar’s victory, Sevilla’s goalkeeper Palop left his net unguarded, ran up for a last-ditch corner, and delivered a header right into net, like the first one. Then there were 30 minutes of overtime, when things could have taken a different turn. But the “miners,” shocked by their last-minute loss of victory, simply stopped playing. Sevilla launched an offensive, and Chevanton scored a goal. Sevilla could have scored more, but that was enough.

The conclusion? Every team has its own character. In the last while, the current Shakhtar players have been “famous” on the international arena for being able to suddenly lose a match that they were on the verge of winning. Who can say why this happens? Neither the coach nor the leading players of Shakhtar speak Ukrainian as a matter of principle, and the translation shouldn’t be trusted. It is the same as trusting a radio report from Seville, which rated Shakhtar as the stronger team. You can only believe what you see or hear. What we saw was the defeat of the champion of Ukraine by a team that was simply stronger.