On the face of it, it’s a mystery why the fifth largest city in Ukraine has the best football team in Eastern Europe.
But money talks. And Shakhtar owner Rinat Akhmetov has plenty of it.
Speak to locals and they’ll tell you he already runs the country by virtue of it – he has no need to be in Parliament as that’s a waste of valuable time.
What he has done here is cleverly tap in to the local wavelength – the area’s extraordinary industrial heritage and mining tradition resonate loudly through everything the club does, even if the majority of players on the pitch are South American.
It’s an impressive achievement though the game felt strangely West European – plenty of comfort, always a bonus in Ukraine, overbearing PA announcements and choreographed goal celebrations. A little bit plastic.
Can’t imagine there’s a more attractive setting for an evening match. In daylight, the Donbass Arena is no great shakes. At night it’s transformed into a beautiful stadium – the exterior is largely glass and it comes into its own.
It’s cleverly lit with a piercing blue light. Like a beautiful girl, you can’t take your eyes off it as you approach it from a distance.
The windows are set into the stadium shell above ground level so from afar it’s like a vast swimming pool floating in the dark night sky. You just want to jump in.
The warm aquamarine glow is mesmerising. In an era of cold, functional, characterless stadia, it’s a marvel.
And on a chilly night it was good to feel the heat from hundreds of heaters embedded in the arena’s roof.
Shakhtar fielded five Brazilians, a Croat (Srna) and five Ukrainians. A Croat (Eduardo), a Brazilian and an Argentinian came on as subs and it’s intriguing to note that most of the Brazilians have been at the club a while and theoretically could earn Ukrainian nationality at some point.
In my 75 drivna seat (about six pounds), I was in line and side-on to the penalty area.
The home side proved they could provide a horrible club song just as bad as any other in the world with a shameful Sacha Distel-like crooning dog’s dinner of a dirge that went down especially well with the support. I filmed a snatch – get your earplugs out.
Thankfully the football couldn’t start soon enough. The Basques bustled and hustled well for ten minutes or so and it looked like game on.
The home support grew, chanting what I think was ‘Heroiv Shaktyor’ – ‘Mining heroes’. Let me know if that’s the wrong interpretation.
This reverberated all round the stadium from the ultras behind the goal, a sort of Mexican wave chant.
Croatian skipper Dario Srna, for Shakhtar, asserted himself and the tempo slowed and his side gradually began to assert dominance. He hit the bar in the 37th minute.
Seconds later Luiz Adriano scored the first tickling a near-post cross over the line with a fine deflection.
At half-time the ultras evaporated from their part of the stadium. Highlights from the other matches were featured – Gareth Bale’s free-kick for Real Madrid elicited a wolf whistle.
Alex Teixeira scored the second after 48 minutes and Sociedad gamely tried to pull one back for the next 20 minutes before succumbing to a breakaway goal.
Douglas Costa was fed the ball on the edge and with a first time left footed shot smashed a screamer into the top left hand corner. Goal of the season. Better than any Bale’s scored so far this year.
It’s easy to play when you’re 3-0 up and Shakhtar turned on the style with Costa netting the fourth with a back post header five minutes from time.
Comfy, but Shakhtar still need something from their game at Man U on December 10 to reach the next round. Leverkusen, a point behind Shakhtar, play Sociedad and could well pip the Ukrainians for second place.
So, something of a cakewalk and the least typical game I’ve seen in Ukraine – a bit too controlled, well organised and focused. Next time I’m here I’ll head to Metalurg down the road for the underdog experience.
If you live near Luton and Wizzair resume flights to Donetsk, the city could be a decent alternative weird and wonderful trip – pick the right flights and it might be cheaper to come here than go to the Arse.
Finally, the PA crew managed to come up with a non cringe-inducing intervention.
It wouldn’t have gone down well with the 150 or so Basque-speaking Real Sociedad fans at the end, but the closing tune played over the sound system rang out, in Spanish: “Besame mucho por la ultima vez.” (Kiss me a lot for the last time)