FC Shakhtar Donetsk qualified for the UEFA Cup and left FC Barcelona in second place in UEFA Champions League Group F after a convincing victory thanks to first-half goals from Julius Aghahowa.
Third place confirmed
The Ukrainian side moved up to third in the group, after Celtic FC could only draw with AC Milan. Barcelona finish three points behind Milan.
Big three dropped
Barcelona were relying on Celtic beating Milan to have a chance of finishing top of the group, but first had to win in Donetsk, where their only previous trip had ended in a draw. Their task was made all the tougher as coach Frank Rijkaard dropped Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto'o and gave youngsters Lionel Messi, Joan Verdú and Francisco Peral their first Champions League starts in the team's usual 4-3-2-1 formation.
Shakhtar also started with an unfamiliar lineup, after injuries robbed coach Mircea Lucescu of wing-back Razvan Rat, striker Ciprian Marica and captain Anatoliy Tymoschuk. Darijo Srna, Brandão and Mariusz Lewandowski replaced them in an eleven that did not contain a single Ukrainian.
Tymoschuk’s armband went to Brazilian midfield player Matuzalem, who dominated the early stages. His third-minute through-ball showed up a huge gap between Barcelona’s central defenders, Carles Puyol and Fernando Navarro, which Brandão ran on to before dragging his shot wide.
Ten minutes later, Barcelona were not so lucky: again Matuzalem was not closed down on the left side of midfield and his 40-metre pass dropped into the path of Aghahowa. The Nigerian took one touch to draw goalkeeper Victor Valdés and another, with his left foot, to chip the ball into the net.
Matuzalem was revelling in the space he was allowed by Verdú, and soon after threaded a pass to give Brandão a chance to double the lead, but Valdés saved well with his feet. The visitors were rocking and Brandão squandered an even better chance when he sliced Zvonimir Vukic’s centre wide of goal when only six metres out.
Just as Barcelona thought they had weathered the storm, Vukic set up the second. His pass freed Brandão on the left, and the Brazilian’s cross was flicked on by Mariusz Lewandowski for Aghahowa to poke home a second from close range. It was no less than Shakhtar deserved.
The Spanish side had little opportunity to threaten the Shakhtar goal and were limited to only two first-half efforts on goal: first Giovanni van Bronckhorst volleyed at Jan Laštuvka after good work by Messi, and late on, Xavi Hernández curled a hopeful shot straight at the goalkeeper.
It was a similar story in the second period, especially after Rijkaard ignored the big guns on his bench and brought on two more youngsters, including Oleguer Presas for captain Puyol. Matuzalem soon turned Oleguer inside out before his shot was blocked by Valdés.
Barcelona were forced into a third change when Matuzalem raked his studs on the back of Juliano Belletti’s calf. The defender hobbled off and was replaced by Rafael Márquez. Shakhtar’s Igor Duljaj followed his captain into the book with a lunge on Fernando Navarro as the second half, low on chances, threatened to turn nasty.
In the last minute, Laštuvka saved a penalty from Andrés Iniesta to sum up Barcelona's rotten night. At the final whistle, Shakhtar celebrated the extension of their European campaign while Barcelona, though beaten, will be dangerous opponents in the first knockout round draw. When those matches come around, expect Ronaldinho, Deco and Eto'o to be back in the side.