Having comfortably won Group H, unbeaten FC Shakhtar Donetsk were pushed hard in the knockout stage and needed penalties to oust Olympiacos FC and SL Benfica.
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FC Shakhtar Donetsk did not lose a game in reaching the semi-finals, winning Group H by five points ahead of FC Porto, Athletic Club and FC BATE Borisov before showing their mental strength in shoot-out victories against Olympiacos FC and last season's runners-up SL Benfica in the knockout stage.
In both those matches Shakhtar came from behind to force spot kicks. "I'm very happy my team have already demonstrated the true Donetsk spirit several times," said coach Valeriy Kryventsov, who himself came through the youth ranks at the club. "Yes, we were lucky with the shoot-outs, but luck favours the strongest."
Marshalled by goalkeeper Oleh Kudryk, Shakhtar conceded just five times in their eight games up to the semi-finals, but it is in midfield where their real strength lies, with Viktor Kovalenko and Beka Vachiberadze key figures. Kovalenko has already featured for Shakhtar's senior side and will travel with Ukraine to the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
Like Shakhtar's other academy teams, Kryventsov's side deploy a fluid 4-3-3 formation that can quickly be adapted if the situation requires. The players have a great understanding and function well as a unit, having gained from the experience of appearing in the inaugural UEFA Youth League last term, as well as winning the Ukrainian youth championship in 2014. Shakhtar's achievements are all the more impressive given they have been playing their home fixtures in Morshyn and Kyiv, far from their Donetsk base.
For Kryventsov, the UEFA Youth League is an important competition because it allows his players to pit their wits against "very strong football schools" from across the continent. "By comparing [ourselves] with them, we can see which of our players are ready to play at a higher level," he said.
100: Percentage of Shakhtar's UEFA Youth League squad born in Ukraine.
Name: Valeriy Kryventsov
Date of Birth: 31/07/1973
Kryventsov was a main player in Shakhtar's successful league and cup-winning teams of the 1990s, as well as being capped 17 times by Ukraine. After moving into coaching, he joined Shakhtar's youth set-up in 2006 as assistant to the Under-15s before ascending the ranks. This is his second UEFA Youth League campaign.
Shakhtar's academy opened in 1999 on the same site as the club's football school, which takes children from the age of eight. Ruslan Malinovskiy graduated from the class of 2012 and recently received his first senior Ukraine call-up.
Round of 16
Shakhtar 1-1 Olympiacos (Shakhtar win 5-4 on penalties)
Benfica 1-1 Shakhtar (Shakhtar win 5-4 on penalties)