LEIPZIG, Germany (AP) — Shakhtar Donetsk’s unlikely quest to represent Ukraine in the Champions League started with a stunning 4-1 win at Leipzig on Tuesday.
The team exiled from its home city for more than eight years by Russian-backed aggression arrived in Germany with a weakened squad that played just three domestic league games this season after more than eight months without competitive action during the war.
Two goals from Marian Shved, making his full debut for Shakhtar, and late strikes by playmaker Mykhaylo Mudryk and substitute Lassina Traoré routed Leipzig, which was a Champions League semifinalist in 2020.
“I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams such a game with four goals for us,” Shakhtar captain Taras Stepanenko said.
Shakhtar’s goals came from just five total attempts and started in the 16th minute when a terrible mistake from Leipzig goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi far outside the penalty area presented Shved with the ball and an open goal.
Leipzig leveled with a goal by French defender Mohamed Simakan in the 57th but Shved restored the lead one minute later with a deflected shot that wrongfooted Gulácsi.
Mudryk showed why he was a transfer target for Arsenal last month, setting up Shved for the go-ahead goal, scoring with a powerful low shot to finish a slick breakaway, and also assisting for Traoré, a Burkina Faso forward now one of the few non-Ukrainians in the squad.
Shakhtar next hosts Celtic, which lost 3-0 at home to defending champion Real Madrid in the other Group F game Tuesday.
That “home” game next week for Shakhtar will be at Legia Warsaw’s stadium in Poland because European competition games cannot currently be played in Ukraine for security reasons. UEFA has banned all Russian teams from its competitions, including domestic champion Zenit St. Petersburg.
Shakhtar has not played at its once-stellar Donbas Arena home since 2014 and has previously played Champions League games in Kyiv and Lviv.
Famous for hiring a crew of Brazilian players to come to eastern Ukraine, that contingent at Shakhtar is now just one because of the war. Loan signing Lucas Taylor started at right back on Tuesday in a starting lineup including eight homegrown players.
“This is a new team but many of these young players are from the Shakhtar academy so they have the Shakhtar spirit and this really helps us a lot,” said Stepanenko, now in his 13th season with the club at age 33.
For Leipzig, Timo Werner played his first Champions League game for the club since the round of 16 in March 2020 — one day before the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic and European soccer shut down. Werner later joined Chelsea early rather than complete that season with Leipzig, which lost in the semifinals.
Leipzig conceded four goals for the second time in four days, after losing 4-0 in the Bundesliga to Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, to put pressure on coach Domenico Tedesco.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports