AS Roma coach Claudio Ranieri expects "a good tie to watch" after his side were paired with Mircea Lucescu's typically easy-on-the-eye FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.
The well-travelled Ranieri has never come up against the Ukrainian champions face to face, but has nothing but admiration for the way his opposite number prepares his charges. "
Lucescu's teams always play very good football," the 59-year-old said. "Shakhtar are a quality team and they have some very strong players. On top of that, Lucescu knows Italian football very well. This is going to be a good tie to watch."
Romanian boss Lucescu does indeed have a detailed knowledge of Italian football, having coached AC Pisa 1909, Brescia Calcio, AC Reggiana and FC Internazionale Milano in the 1990s. He met Ranieri-led sides eight times in Serie A, coming off worse with two wins to the Roma coach's four.
Lucescu also knows what Ranieri is capable of in UEFA club competition. The two coaches sat on opposite benches when Chelsea FC met Beşiktaş JK in the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League group stage; Lucescu's Black Eagles won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge but lost the return fixture – played in Gelsenkirchen at the Arena Aufschalke for security reasons – by the same scoreline.
Another meeting with Lucescu is no problem for Ranieri, though the Italian's primary concern ahead of the draw was with his own side rather than whom they might face. "There was no team I particularly wanted," he said. "The only thing I wanted, and still want, is to have a team in good shape when we play these games."
For Shakhtar defender Răzvan Raţ, a Roma outfit in good form would provide even more motivation for his side, who are competing at this stage for the first time. He said: "I'd like to quote a famous chess player: 'You can only become stronger when playing against strong opponents'. I fully agree."
Lucescu and his Shakhtar players are already on their winter holidays, but Raţ said the confidence in the squad is such that they would have welcomed any draw. "It would have been inappropriate to say we wanted the weakest team at the draw," the 29-year-old added. "So it's Roma this time – great! It will be two difficult, but interesting matches. I'm looking forward to them."
Shakhtar general director Serhiy Palkin was a tad more wary in his analysis. "We are up against very strong opponents, but I'm glad we avoided the likes of Internazionale Milano, AC Milan and Valencia," he said. Palkin remembers the clubs' only previous meetings, in the 2006/07 UEFA Champions League group stage, when Lucescu's Pitmen lost 4-0 in Rome but prevailed 1-0 at home. "We didn't have enough international experience then, so Shakhtar couldn't be a match for the best European clubs, even though we had a few good players," he recalled. "Now we have the experience, so I hope we can go through."
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