Eleven wins, one draw and just a solitary defeat: Shakhtar
Donetsk's record in the Ukrainian Vischa League after 13 games
certainly makes impressive reading. They are currently six points
ahead of their nearest rivals Dnipro Dnepropetrovsk and seven clear
of reigning champions Dynamo Kiev. With half of the season gone,
Mircea Lucescu's men are looking unstoppable.
The orange-clad outfit have also got off to a flying start in the UEFA Champions League, leading a formidable group including AC Milan, Celtic and Benfica with maximum points from their first two games.
Back in theUSSR
This is definitely the most success that the club, formed in 1936 under the name of 'Stakhanovets', has ever enjoyed. Trophies certainly proved hard to come by in the early days, and even when they changed their name to 'Shakhtyor' in 1946, they still enjoyed little in the way of success.
In 1951, the 'Mountain Men', as they are known, finished
third in the former Soviet Union first division, and a decade
later, in the early 60s, they twice won the national cup, earning
themselves a reputation as the team to beat in knock-out football.
In 1975 and 1979, they finished runners-up in the former Soviet
Union league and qualified for the European Cup. Two more Soviet
cup wins followed in 1980 and 1983, to which they added a USSR
Super Cup trophy.
Poster boys for Ukrainian football
When Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, Shakhtar Donetsk - as they were by then known - finally began to write history. The club from the heart of the Donbass coalfields won their first Ukrainian trophy in 1995 when they again won the cup, but they went out in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Cup after finishing runners-up in the league the season before. A year later they again featured in Europe but got no further than the first round of the now defunct European Cup Winners' Cup.
Since the 1996-1997 season, Shakhtar have been the shining light in what is the largest country in Europe geographically. Indeed, the Hirnyky can boast three league titles, eight runners-up spots and four cup wins in the past 11 years. Until recently however, their domestic success was not carried over into Europe, with Shakhtar falling on three occasions in the first round group stages of the UEFA Champions League and four times even earlier, in the qualifying rounds. The UEFA Cup did not bring them any more joy, with reaching the last 16 representing their most notable achievement in that particular competition.
This season, however, things are looking up. Shakhtar Donetsk are currently sweeping all before them both at domestic and international level. After wins at home to Celtic and away to Benfica, they lead Champions League Group D ahead of their clash on Wednesday evening against AC Milan at the mythical San Siro stadium. Should they manage to get a result out of their clash with the 17-time Italian champions then they will be a step further towards the round of 16 and closer to a taste of some real European success.
Success on the home and European fronts has helped attract a number of top international players to Donetsk. This season, Cristiano Lucarelli became the first Italian to join a Ukrainian club after scoring 92 goals in 144 league matches for Livorno. His performances earned him a place with the Azzurri, and he is by no means the only international on Shakhtar's books.
With Igor Duljaj and Zvonimir Vukic (Serbia), Mariusz Lewandowski (Poland), Razvan Dinca Rat (Romania) and Darijo Srna (Croatia) along with Nery Castillo (Mexico), Shakhtar Donetsk have six other internationals in their ranks as well as another half-dozen Brazilians to provide some extra flair. Perhaps this blend of European and South American skills will finally propel Ukraine's top club into the international elite.