Coach Mircea Lucescu hopes to realise the next part of his long-term plan when he leads FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Cup final, saying: "We deserve to be here and we are hoping to return to Donetsk with the cup."
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After ending FC Dynamo Kyiv's hegemony in Ukraine with three Premier League titles in his five years at FC Shakhtar Donetsk, an unruffled Mircea Lucescu is hoping to realise the next part of his long-term plan when he leads his side out against Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup final.
The scene as the referee's whistle signaled the end of Shakhtar's semi-final against FC Dynamo Kyiv and the Pitmen's progress to the Istanbul showpiece spoke volumes. Players sank to the ground in exhausted reverie as fans resplendent in incandescent tangerine leapt with glee, doffing their miners' hats en masse. Lucescu, however, barely broke stride as he walked through the euphoria, scratching his nose. The Romanian had seen it all coming. "Over the last few years the standard of Ukrainian football has really improved and they're starting to enjoy success in European competition; look at Shakhtar, Metalist Kharkiv and Dynamo in this season's UEFA Cup," the 63-year-old said on Tuesday. "We deserve to be here and we are hoping to return to Donetsk with the cup."
As, according to one respected Ukrainian journalist, is the country as a whole, with even fans of arch-rivals FC Metalurh Donestsk preparing to replace enmity with fraternity – for 24 hours at least. That is an achievement in itself for Lucescu, who has fashioned a team in his own image since arriving in the industrial Donbass region five years ago. "Usually I try to create teams from scratch," said Lucescu. "In Donetsk I was told to create a new, young team. Only five players remain from when I arrived and we've brought in a lot of young, promising players, like our Brazilian attackers. Their growing maturity is reflected in our reaching the UEFA Cup final. That said, when we were here in July [losing 2-1 in a friendly against Fenerbahçe SK] who could predict we would be back here now? Hopefully our players won't feel too far from home; they know this stadium well."
Lucescu is no stranger to these parts either, having spent four years in Istanbul before leaving for Donetsk in 2004. He immediately made his mark, leading Galatasaray AŞ to 2000 UEFA Super Cup victory over Real Madrid CF in his first competitive match in charge and later captured the Turkish title with both Cimbom and Beşiktaş JK. "This is a city I love," he said. "My four years here brought a lot of success and happiness and Istanbul deserves to be the final UEFA Cup final venue. I'm proud my side have won the right to play it, too.
"It will be a match between an offensive force, Bremen – they are a very good attacking team – and a skilful, resilient Shakhtar. We have a young side and naturally they are experiencing all the emotions you'd expect with a final; we just need to control them." Lucescu is the perfect foil for that passion. Though excitable at times when paroling the touchline, his default mode is wry amusement, but even he may let his guard slip if Shakhtar claim Ukraine's first European title since their 1991 independence.