Borussia Dortmund captain Sebastian Kehl is all too ready to admit that the clock is ticking on his career. But for the midfielder, who turns 33 on the day his side run out at the Donbass Arena in the first leg of their round of 16 tie with FC Shakhtar Donetsk, the remorseless passing of time has made him even more determined to succeed in the UEFA Champions League.
"I will not have many more opportunities to win something big, but we want to start doing so tomorrow," said Kehl, who joined Dortmund from SC Freiburg in 2001. "It is always a pleasure to take part in European competitions, but you do not just need skill to win in the Champions League – it is a matter of experience."
And experience is one thing Kehl has in abundance. With 229 Bundesliga appearances in the yellow of title holders Dortmund, as well as 31 caps for his country, the anchorman has been the elder statesman in a team which fizzed with youthful exuberance in topping Group D – with the fresh-faced Marco Reus, İlkay Gündoğan, Robert Lewandowski and Kevin Grosskreutz shining, among others.
However, despite Jürgen Klopp's side being the star attraction of this season's competition to many, Shakhtar pose a formidable threat. The Ukrainian club are meeting German opposition for the first time since they overcame SV Werder Bremen 2-1 after extra time in the 2009 UEFA Cup final in Istanbul. "I do not think we need to talk a lot about their previous wins over German teams," said Kehl. "Statistics are part of the past. I hope that we win, but in any circumstances the winner of this tie will be decided in second leg."
Dortmund will be fully prepared for Wednesday's away leg, and having won at AFC Ajax, and drawn at Manchester City FC and Real Madrid CF during the group stage, will be confident of further success on the road. "In spite of their winter break, we have enough information on Shakhtar. We clearly understand what to expect. They will be backed by a full stadium, but it will not bother us as we will be fully concentrated on the game."
With Dortmund's on-field leader conceding his days are numbered, it could be now or never for his shot at Europe's premier tournament. "I came here when I was very young but was trusted with a place in the side," he said. "Now I hope we will be lucky enough to win something this season – it would be even more special at my age."