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Stragglers keen to play catch-up

Published: Wednesday 20 October 2004, 13.07CET
Points will be at an absolute premium for FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic FC when the teams meet in Group F.

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Published: Wednesday 20 October 2004, 13.07CET

Stragglers keen to play catch-up

Points will be at an absolute premium for FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic FC when the teams meet in Group F.

By Igor Linnyk in Donetsk

Points are at an absolute premium for FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic FC on Wednesday night when the third and fourth-placed teams in UEFA Champions League Group F meet at the Olympiyskiy Stadium in Donetsk.

Win needed
With FC Barcelona and AC Milan taking maximum points from their opening two fixtures, Shakhtar and Celtic both need a win to stay in contention in the section, although talk of a fight for third position remains premature.

Teen dream
Injury worries are another common factor between the sides, although Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu is more focused on a player who should feature against the Scottish champions - one he regards as the best teenager in Europe.

'Better than Rooney'
Nineteen-year-old Romanian forward Ciprian Marica goes into the game with a glowing endorsement from his coach. "Marica is much better than Wayne Rooney. He is ambitious, has wonderful technique and is so fast. He could become one of the world's best players," Lucescu said. "I have never seen a player of his age as good as Marica. Rooney is powerful but Marica is more skilful. In two or three years he will be playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world."

Recovery time
Lucescu hopes that Marica, defender Razvan Rat and striker Andriy Vorobey, who were given time off on Sunday to recuperate from minor injuries after playing 90 minutes of the Ukrainian Cup tie against FC Volyn Lutsk, will be available. Midfielder Darijo Srna, meanwhile, has been training alone to try and regain full fitness. But Aleksei Bakharev, Brandão and João Batista are ruled out.

Destiny calling
Despite the need to progress in the group, Lucescu does not underestimate the opposition. "Unlike us, Celtic have rich traditions and vast European experience. However, our players are ready to give everything in a game which could determine both clubs' futures in the Champions League," he said.

Domestic bliss
Both teams are on form in their domestic leagues, at least. Celtic top the Scottish Premier League by five points, while Shakhtar have won all of their nine matches to lead the Ukrainian table by a similar margin from FC Dynamo Kyiv.

Travel sickness
Where Shakhtar may have the edge, however, is Celtic's dreadful away record in the Champions League - played seven, lost seven. In addition, the Glaswegians have failed to win in three previous visits to the Ukraine, the last being a 3-1 defeat by Dynamo in 1986. Following the home loss to Barcelona on Matchday 1, the need to buck that trend is acute indeed.

Airport delay
Celtic's trip this time around has not begun auspiciously. Defender Stanislav Varga was detained at Donetsk airport for an hour because of a visa problem. Manager Martin O'Neill has other concerns, particularly the fitness of defenders Dianbobo Balde, who will be tested on Wednesday morning, and Joos Valgaeren. Neither played in the win against Heart of Midlothian FC on Saturday, while Ulrik Laursen is already sidelined.

Change of formation
Centre-forward Chris Sutton, purveyor of six goals in 25 Champions League appearances, was deployed in defence against Hearts and will retain his defensive place should the injured pair miss out. This, however, would negate any O'Neill ploy to use Sutton in midfield behind John Hartson and on-loan Senegalese international Henri Camara.

Last updated: 20/10/04 12.38CET