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Who exactly are Zorya Luhansk?

A big name in the Soviet Union in the 1970s reborn as a fast, aggressive side under Yuriy Vernydub, UEFA.com gets the inside line on Ukraine's Zorya Luhansk.

Zorya will make their UEFA Europa League group stage debut on matchday one
Zorya will make their UEFA Europa League group stage debut on matchday one ©AFP/Getty Images

Formed: 1923

UEFA club competition honours
• None

Domestic honours (most recent triumph in brackets)
• League title: 1 (1972)

• José Mourinho admitted after the group stage draw that he didn't know much about "the Ukrainian team and their quality", but Zorya boss Yuriy Vernydub knows all about his side's opponents. "This is something historic for us; not everyone gets to play against United or Fenerbahçe," he said.

• Zorya have form when it comes to shocks. In 1972, Herman Zonin's Zorya Voroshilovgrad (Luhansk having been renamed in honour of politician and military leader Kliment Voroshilov) confounded expectations to win the Soviet league title, future Dynamo Kyiv ace Volodymyr Onyshchenko their ten-goal top scorer. Zorya were the first club not from the capital of a Soviet Republic to lift the USSR crown.

• Zorya started out as a works team for a train factory. Originally called Metalist on their foundation in 1923, the side from the October Revolution engineering works were rebranded, variously, as Dzerzhinets (after Felix Dzerzhinsky, architect of the Soviet secret police), Trudovye Rezervy (literally: labour reserve, the name of a Soviet society aimed at bringing technical college students into sport) and Avanhard (vanguard) until taking on their current moniker of Zorya (literally: dawn) in 1960.

Luhansk's favourite son, pole vaulter Serhiy Bubka
Luhansk's favourite son, pole vaulter Serhiy Bubka©Getty Images

• Luhansk's biggest sporting claim to fame may be as the birthplace of pole-vaulting maestro Serhiy Bubka – a 35-time world record breaker. However, Zorya have not played a European home game in their home city since 1973, their recent renaissance coinciding with the political problems in eastern Ukraine. Since 2014, they have held most of their home matches in Kyiv, while for the UEFA Europa League group stage they will be switching to Odesa.

• Zorya endured tough times before making it to the group stage. Exiled from Ukraine's top division from 1996–2006, they sank as low as the third tier; and while Vernydub – in charge since 2011 – has helped them achieve club-record fourth-placed finishes in the last two seasons, they twice lost in the UEFA Europa League play-offs – to Legia Warszawa last term and to Group A rivals Feyenoord, with a late goal, in the previous campaign. "Everyone was crying," Vernydub said of that decider. 

• A neighbourly relationship with Shakhtar has helped Zorya shine. The clubs' home cities are 130km apart and the Pitmen have loaned some fine players to their near neighbours. The teams met in last season's Ukrainian Cup final, Shakhtar winning 2-0, and the 50-year-old Vernydub's style (which he labels "high-quality, entertaining and intelligent football") meant he was tipped for the Shakhtar job when Mircea Lucescu left in the summer, but Portuguese coach Paulo Fonseca got the nod.

Yuriy Vernydub celebrates a Zorya goal
Yuriy Vernydub celebrates a Zorya goal©Getty Images

• Often represented in national-team squads, Zorya enjoyed a breakthrough when left-back Eduard Sobol started the recent 1-1 FIFA World Cup qualifying draw with Iceland. Two other Shakhtar loanees, wingers Olexandr Karavaev and Ivan Petriak, are reckoned to be the stars of this Zorya side, though at international level they are understudies for Ukraine's biggest names, Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka.

• Zorya cannot wait to get started in the UEFA Europa League proper. "It's more like a Champions League group than a UEFA Europa League one," said forward Jaba Lipartia, defensive team-mate Mikhail Sivakov adding of their daunting opposition: "We are all human. I would love to prove myself against teams like this." Goalkeeper Oleh Chuvaev noted: "Before this, we only watched the Champions League and Europa League on TV, but now we are involved – it's all been worth it."