FC Shakhtar Donetsk handed themselves a UEFA Champions League lifeline by defeating AS Roma to ensure the race to join Valencia CF in the knockout rounds will be a last-day sprint between Mircea Lucescu's men and the Italian challengers.
Ciprian Marica's 61st-minute header was enough to earn Shakhtar all three points in the Group D encounter at the RSC Olympiyskiy Stadium. The victory moved the Ukrainian side on to five points, meaning they could yet sneak through if they win at UEFA Cup hopefuls Olympiacos CFP on Matchday 6 and Roma lose at home to Valencia. A point would be enough for the Giallorossi, who have seven, to progress.
A draw in Donetsk would have seen Roma through with a game to spare, yet Shakhtar responded well to the pressure of needing a victory. The visitors had put seven unanswered goals past Calcio Catania at the weekend but they played with scant trace of that attacking flair during the first 45 minutes as Shakhtar made all the running. Making light of the absences of Tomáš Hübschman, Mariusz Lewandowski and key midfielder Matuzalem, Shakhtar played with real zest and warmed the home crowd with a rousing first-half display.
Prompted by the artistry of Jadson Rodriguez and the industry of Fernandinho, they gave the Roma defence - fortified by the returning Christian Panucci and Philippe Mexes - a searching examination of their mettle. Brandão, the muscular Brazilian, proved a particular handful and the best two best chances of the opening period fell his way. The pony-tailed striker saw a header from Jadson's flighted cross whistle wide of the post and an effort on 38 minutes smothered by goalkeeper Doni.
Roma threatened sporadically and most of their best moments were orchestrated by Francesco Totti, notably when he flashed a free-kick across the face of goal seconds before the interval. Shakhtar showed the same urgency after the break and they would surely have got their noses in front had Mexes not produced a wonderful covering tackle to deny Marica as the Romanian international shaped to shoot after being teed up by Fernandinho.
Fernandino and Jadson continued to pull the midfield strings and it was the craft of the latter Brazilian that helped break the deadlock on 61 minutes. Moving inside from his position on the left flank, Jadson picked out the well-timed run of Marica who sprung the Roma offside trap to head high past Doni. Visiting coach Luciano Spalletti finally shelved his cautious approach in the 78th minute by introducing David Pizarro and Vincenzo Montella, but it was Shakhtar who looked more likely to add their tally and they nearly did when Fernandinho fizzed a long-range effort just over the bar.
Mindful of the four goals they had conceded in a sensational 23-minute spell on Matchday 1 against the same opponents, Shakhtar refused to sit back and defend their advantage and it was a sign of their attacking intent when Lucescu replaced Marica with Julius Aghahowa in an attempt to sustain the forward momentum. Attack subsequently proved the best form of defence as the home side held on with ease.