Sevilla may be the most successful side in Europa League history but Taras Stepanenko is confident Shakhtar Donetsk can upset the two-time defending champions.
Unai Emery’s side are preparing for the first leg of their third successive semi-final appearance on Thursday, with just one defeat in their last 12 matches in the competition, which they have won four times.
The two sides met in the competition in 2007, then in the guise of the UEFA Cup, when a dramatic conclusion saw Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop score to take the game into extra-time, before Javier Chevanton grabbed the decisive goal.
That stoppage-time header denied Shakhtar a place in the quarter-finals, but they quickly got over the heartache to win the competition two years later – their only European trophy.
Shakhtar – under the guidance of veteran coach Mircea Lucescu – have seen off Braga, Anderlecht and Schalke in the knockout stages this season, and Stepanenko is keen to add Sevilla to that list and gain some revenge on the Liga side.
“It was a painful defeat,” he told UEFA.com. “Mr Lucescu told us about it in training, and some of the older players remember it. We would like some revenge for that.
“They [Sevilla] have great experience of participating in, and winning, this tournament. And that’s very important at this stage of the competition.
“It’s all new to us. Most of our players haven’t played at this level, so that’s why the most important thing for us is to be prepared mentally. Anything can happen on the football pitch.”
Thursday’s opening match in Lviv – Shakhtar continue to play away from the Donbass Arena due to unrest in Ukraine – is only the third meeting between the sides, with at least four goals coming in both previous encounters.
Sevilla come into the latest clash having beaten Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao in the last eight, a 5-4 triumph on penalties after the tie had ended 3-3 on aggregate.
Emery’s side are still chasing a European qualification place in the league with three games to go; they are in a battle with Celta Vigo and Bilbao for the two Europa League spots.
A third successive triumph in the competition would ease those worries, though, with a Champions League place on offer for the winners, and Jose Antonio Reyes says the players are hungry to continue their dominance.
“The team is committed and on Thursday we have a very nice semi-final, which it will be intense and we have to fight for it [victory],” said Reyes.
“To find a team with more hunger [than Sevilla] is impossible, we have pushed despite the workload that we have, fighting from day one.”
Key Opta stats:
– Shakhtar Donetsk have gone four matches without a win over Spanish opposition (losing three); failing to score at all in three of those games.
– Sevilla have faced Ukrainian opposition five times previously; they have never lost (winning four).
– Shakhtar have made it to the semi-final of a major European competition for only the second time; they won the UEFA Cup in 2008/09.
– Although Sevilla have won 11 of their last 12 home matches in the Europa League, they have failed to score in two of their last three on the road in this competition.
– Shakhtar Donetsk have won five consecutive matches in Europe; they’ve never been on a longer winning streak (including qualifiers).
– Kevin Gameiro has been involved in four goals across his last three Europa League appearances (three scored and one assist).
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