It’s probably one of the toughest draws Fulham could have got at this stage to be honest. Shakhtar Donetsk have real European pedigree, having won the last UEFA Cup competition to be played, last year and even won in London on their way to the final in the last 32, beating Spurs in a thrilling second leg in Ukraine.
The winter break may give Fulham something of an advantage. Shakhtar played their last fixture – a 2-1 home win over Illychivets last Saturday – and won’t play again before the first leg at Craven Cottage on February 18. Indeed, they will only resume competitive league fixtures after the second leg with another home game scheduled against Vorskla for the weekend after the return game. At the start of the winter shut-down, Shakhtar sat second in the table, two points behind leaders Dynamo Kyiv, having played a game more.
Shakhtar, whose four league titles have all come in this decade largely thanks to the investment of president Rinat Akhmetov, were somewhat surprising winners of the UEFA Cup last season. They had a spectacular run to the final, where they saw off Werder Bremen in extra time, with goals from Brazilian pair Luiz Adriano and Jadson.
The Ukrainian side have plenty of players worth keeping a close eye on. Czech international Tomas Hubschmann will marshall the defence alongside another Brazilian Leonardo. The South American influence on Shakhtar is strong with six more Samba boys offering lots of flair – as well as the two UEFA Cup final goalscorers, there’s also playmaker and vice-captain Fernandinho and midfielders Ilsinho and Willian. Of course, they could also call upon Julius Aghahowa. Forgotten about him already? I’m not surprised. He didn’t score in 18 months and 20 league games at Wigan.
It should make for some tie.