By Vadim Furmanov –
Chornomorets Stadium, Odessa (Capacity 34,164)
Note: Zorya currently play their home matches at Slavutych Arena in Zaporizhia, but the stadium does not meet UEFA standards. They have been exiled from their original ground, Avanhard Stadium, for over two years because of the Donbass War.
Zorya Luhansk Europa League Preview
Though Zorya trace their history back to 1923, when workers of a steam train factory in the city of Luhansk organized a football team named Metalist, the modern version of the club was founded in 1964 as Zorya Voroshilovgrad, as the city of Luhansk was known during the time of the Soviet Union. In 1972, just their second season in the Soviet Vysshaya Liga, they won the title by five points over Dynamo Kyiv—one of the greatest surprises in the history of Soviet football. This, however, was the only piece of silverware that the club has ever won. In 1979, Zorya were relegated and would return to the top flight only as a member of the Ukrainian First Division in 1992.
Their history since Ukrainian independence has been unremarkable, and they are recently in the middle of their most successful Premier League spell under manager Yuriy Vernydub, having finished fourth in each of the past two seasons. Surprisingly, this has coincided with their internal exile—like Shakhtar Donetsk, Zorya have been forced to find a new ground due to the fighting in Eastern Ukraine.
In the last two seasons Zorya have stumbled at the final hurdle, suffering defeats to Feyenoord Rotterdam and Legia Warsaw in the playoff round of Europa League qualifying. This season, however, Zorya were given an automatic berth to the group stage as a result of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk’s European ban.
Know your oligarch:
The club are controlled by former politician and businessman Yevhen Heller, who is a former president of Shakhtar. Heller has very close ties with Shakhtar owner, and Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov, and this is reflected by the relationship between the clubs themselves. Zorya are heavily dependent on Shakhtar’s loaned-out players, which has often translated into controversy when the two sides meet.
Zorya’s European opponents need no introduction. They have been drawn in a group with Manchester United, Istanbul based club Fenerbahçe, and Feyenoord, all teams with strong European pedigrees. It was Feyenoord who eliminated Zorya from the Europa league two seasons ago in heartbreaking fashion—after coming back from a 3-0 deficit, they gave up a 92nd minute goal that sent them out of the competition.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 26, 2016
What to expect:
This is the first time that Zorya are competing in the group stages, and considering the quality of their opposition getting out of the group stage would be an extraordinary achievement. They certainly won’t be helped by the lack of home support, as their matches will take place in Odesa, nearly 600 kilometers away. Although Manchester United seem to be planning a trip to Luhansk itself, currently under occupation by Russian-backed separatists.
Futbolgrad Prediction: 4th
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Vadim Furmanov is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Originally from Ukraine, Vadim has resided in Chicago since 1994 and is a passionate supporter of both Dynamo Kyiv and the Ukrainian national team. He is also a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and a member of the Fire’s Section 8 supporters group. He writes primarily about Ukrainian football, as well as the intersection between football, politics, and history. You can follow Vadim on Twitter @vfurmanov.