"We're doing our best to keep our players' spirits up," Mircea Lucescu told UEFA.com as he reflected on current events ahead of FC Shakhtar Donetsk's decider at FC Bayern München.
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It has been no ordinary season for FC Shakhtar Donetsk, with events in Ukraine forcing them from their home city to train in Kyiv and play in Lviv.
Yet for the third time in five years they have got through the UEFA Champions League group stage and on Wednesday they visit FC Bayern München with their round of 16 tie at 0-0. Ahead of the visit long-standing Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu spoke to UEFA.com about the tie, the challenge of Shakhtar's enforced exile in the west of Ukraine and their winter trip to Brazil.
On the first leg...
"We played good football, and it was a fairly even match. Even those rare chances Bayern had were from our own mistakes. We made some technical mistakes, some misplaced passes, which they turned into possible scoring chances. But Bayern only had one shot on goal, just like us. The final score reflected what happened on the pitch.
I'm perfectly aware we are facing an extremely difficult second leg in Munich, Bayern cannot afford to leave the competition so early. The final will be played in Berlin, so they will do their best to be there. On our side, we will try to leave a good impression of Shakhtar through our play."
On the challenge in Munich...
"We'll be playing against a very strong club. In my opinion Bayern are the world's strongest football team at the moment. They have six world champions among their players, and leading figures like [Franck[ Ribéry or [Arjen] Robben. They have promising young players like [David] Alaba. They have experienced players like Xabi Alonso. They are at the moment the strongest team in the world. And we are taking them very seriously, of course.
We have to respond to their extraordinary tactical discipline with equally strong tactical discipline. Let's not forget Bayern were already playing in their domestic league; our league only started [on 28 February]. They have an advantage on us on that matter. Their team is also superior to ours, but football does not follow logical rules. In football, anything can happen."
On dealing with events in Donetsk and Ukraine this year...
"We're doing our best to keep our players' spirits up during this period of time, but it not an easy task ... It is very difficult to play a championship in these conditions. I would rather focus on what happens on the pitch: training sessions, recoveries, away matches, style of play. That way, I try to help our players get away from their worries and those of their families who are still living in conflict zones."
On going to Brazil in the winter break...
"We organised those sessions for several reasons. Five or six years ago, when we still had Jádson, Fernandinho and Willian in our team, we had the same plans, but playing other important clubs proved to be difficult to put in place. We managed to do it this time, after we asked the organisation committee to schedule only matches against the most important Brazilian clubs.
We played against Flamengo, Cruzeiro, Atlético Mineiro, Internacional, Porto Alegre, all important clubs with a lot of fans who filled the stadiums. However, most important thing to me was to take our Brazilian players back to their roots. They left their [Brazilian] clubs very early, at the age of 18 or 19, and their fans are now starting to forget them.
I was interested to see how they would cope with difficult training conditions at high temperatures of 40C, with many long flights between cities – each of them about two and a half hours long – with a short time between matches, which they mostly used to recover physically. I wanted to see their level of performance compared to other Brazilian players they had left behind. And I came to the conclusion that our players had made huge improvements.
We dominated all the encounters, even those we lost. We dictated the pace of the matches. We also made the games spectacular, very much to the taste of the numerous fans. So there were multiple reasons why we chose to do this training programme in Brazil.
"We also should not forget that we do not have a stable situation here [in Ukraine]. Sometimes we have to train in Kyiv, other times in Lviv, and we often have to travel across Europe. Our training programme in Brazil was very helpful. It provided me with answers to many questions I was asking myself at that time."
On helping Shakhtar become a UEFA Champions League force...
"I am not the only one who has built this team. Most of the credit should go to our president who wanted to have a competitive team at European level. Then to the club, which is very well organised and made everything possible so that our players can play at this level. Credit should go to the players themselves, who wanted to turn the club into the best Eastern European team and managed to do so. I only helped all those different people in bringing a winning strategy to the club."