Shakhtar Donetsk to advance to UCL group stage after Villarreal loss

Shakhtar Donetsk will be awarded a place in the group stage of the next Champions League after Villarreal were eliminated in the semi-finals on Tuesday.

Amid so much turmoil in Ukrainian football, the upgrade is set to secure tens of millions of euros in Champions League prize money next season for Shakhtar, who have toured Europe playing in charity games in exile from the Russian invasion.

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Villarreal’s 5-2 aggregate loss to Liverpool ensured the title will be won by a side who have already qualified for next season’s Champions League thanks to their domestic league standings. Real Madrid and Manchester City will play the other semi-final second leg on Wednesday.

The entry into next season’s competition which UEFA protects for the defending champions can now move on to the top-ranked domestic league which does not yet have a direct place in the group stage from September.

That country is Ukraine, ranked No. 12, and its best club is Shakhtar, who were due to take part in the qualifiers in August.

Shakhtar topped the Ukrainian Premier League table when the season was abandoned last month without an official title being awarded. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, a day before the league resumed after a two-month winter break.

UEFA is expected to officially confirm the allocation of European competition entries to Ukraine within weeks.

The financial security offered by Champions League football should help Shakhtar find stability amid uncertainty for Ukrainian football. It’s unclear how many players, especially from abroad, they can retain and sign for next season, or where the team will train and play.

Shakhtar has lived in uncertainty in exile for eight years. The team has not played in Donetsk since 2014, when it was driven out by a Russian-backed conflict in its home region of eastern Ukraine. It is now the scene of intense fighting in the third month of the war.

Playing in the 2019-20 Champions League group stage brought Shakhtar €43.1m ($45.4m) from UEFA in prize money and a share of television rights.

In the same season, Dynamo Kyiv only received 7.5 million euros ($7.9 million) playing in the second-tier Europa League.

Dynamo finished second in the suspended Ukrainian table and are currently set to start the Champions League in July in the second qualifying round. Dynamo, who are also on tour playing charity matches, would need to beat three opponents to reach the group stage.

UEFA withdrew Russian clubs from next season’s European competitions due to the war, which also helped improve Shakhtar.

Russian champions Zenit Saint Petersburg’s place in the group stage was awarded to 11th-placed Scotland this week, allowing Ukraine to be next in line if Villarreal fail to win the Champions League.

Zenit could join the Russian federation’s appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against UEFA and FIFA banning national and club teams from participating in international competitions.

Russia already lost interim decisions at the CAS in these appeal cases in March.

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