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Julius Aghahowa's first-half goal proved decisive as FC Shakhtar Donetsk earned a place in the UEFA Cup Round of 16 with an impressive display against FC Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen.
Coming in to the game knowing they needed to score following the 1-1 draw in Ukraine last week, Shakhtar began on the front foot and took the initiative after just 22 minutes. A cultured switched pass from Anatoliy Tymoschuk caught the defence cold and the Nigerian striker performed a cute stepover before unleashing a powerful drive through the legs of Frank Rost.
It was just reward for coach Mircea Lucescu, who resisted the temptation to alter his side by naming an unchanged starting eleven. Schalke coach Ralf Rangnick, meanwhile, made three changes from the team that came within four minutes of victory last week, with Brazilian playmaker Lincoln returning, while Gerald Asamoah was included in a three-pronged attack.
But it was the Shakhtar strikers who began the match brightest and less than five minutes were on the clock when Brandão forced Rost to sprint off his line to block after the Brazilian striker collected a long ball. Rost tipped an almost identical effort over on 19 minutes, but if that chance was a warning, it was one that Schalke did not heed and three minutes later Aghahowa put the visiting side in front.
Schalke's centre-backs, Darío Rodríguez and Mladen Krstajic, are both 30, and the duo never looked comfortable against Shakhtar's pacy strikers. On 32 minutes, either striker could have stretched the lead, but Zvonimir Vukic opted to go it alone and the move fizzled out.
At this stage, Shakhtar were cruising, but the home side came back into the game in the last five minutes of the half. First Lincoln forced Jan Laštuvka to tip over his free-kick at full stretch and then from the resulting corner Asamoah just failed to reach a dangerous delivery. But with the first half ending, so too did Schalke's best spell of the game.
The German side enjoyed a lot of possession in the second period but the final ball disappointed and the resilient Shakhtar back-line seldom looked vulnerable. Ailton found an opening on 72 minutes after Lincoln's precise pass but contrived to thrash his effort wide, and it proved the last real opportunity for Schalke.
Instead it was Shakhtar who could, and probably should, have sealed the win a minute from time when Elano Blumer's attempted lob was parried by Rost but only as far as Andriy Vorobey. But with the goalkeeper stranded, the substitute scuffed his effort wide. Ultimately, however, one goal proved enough and Shakhtar can now look forward to a tie against Dutch high-fliers AZ Alkmaar.
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