Zorya Luhansk vs Feyenoord Rotterdam on Thursday at the Chornomorets Stadium in Odessa—where the club is playing because of the on-going conflict in Eastern Ukraine—will be a must-win affair for the Ukrainians if they want to have any chance to advance to the round of 32 of the Europa League. For Zorya going into Group A, however, Futbolgrad predicted that the Ukrainians would finish fourth in what is a difficult group.
After matchday 3, Zorya are indeed fourth in the group with just one point. Feyenoord are leading the table, together with Manchester United, with both standing at six points. On third place are Fenerbahçe, who have already collected four points.
With three matches in the books, Feyenoord, Manchester United, and Fenerbahçe will determine the two top places amongst themselves. But, despite only collecting one point, Zorya have actually been competitive in the group, and the Ukrainians could very well be the decisive factor with respect to who will advance out of the group.
Zorya drew Fenerbahçe at home on matchday 1 and, then on matchday 2, came close to embarrassing Manchester United at Old Trafford when only a Zlatan Ibrahimović strike separated the two sides. Next, on matchday 3, Zorya travelled to the Netherlands to face Feyenoord and, once again, they came close to gaining a result as they lost 1-0 to the Dutch Eredivisie leaders.
With the fixture set to return to Ukraine, Zorya can draw positives from the first three games in the Europa League, as it will be only a matter of time before the squad, which is coached by the talented Yuriy Vernydub, will collect its first victory in Europe.
Indeed, Zorya have progressed consistently since Verydub took over as the head coach of the club in 2011. Since he took over, over the club has finished thirteenth, tenth, seventh, fourth, and fourth, and this season has become the closest challenger to Shakhtar Donetsk, as the club is currently second in the Ukrainian Premier League, six points behind the Miners.
The club has certainly undergone a remarkable evolution—the 1972 Soviet Vysshaya Liga champion has now established itself as a Ukrainian top club. This feat is even more extraordinary, given the difficult political situation in Eastern Ukraine, and the resulting forced exile of the club.
This exile has been made even more difficult by the fact that Zorya were unclear as to where to play their European fixtures this season. In the league, they tend to use the Slavutych Arena in Zaporizhya, but the stadium did not meet UEFA standards, and after Dynamo Kyiv rejected Zorya’s application to use the Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv, Zorya had to settle for the Chornomorets Stadium in Odessa.
But the fear that this could result in Zorya playing in front of empty stands proved to be unfounded when 16,000 fans attended the first “home game” against Fenerbahçe, and it is likely that the stadium will once again see a good crowd when the Dutch league leaders come to town on Thursday.
Futbolgrad’s Prediction: Zorya Luhansk vs Feyenoord 2:1
Shevchenko – Sukhotsky, Forster, Sivakov, Opanasenko – Grechyshkin, Kharatin – Petryak, Lipartia, Karavaev – Paulinho
Manager: Yuri Vernydub
Jones – Woudenberg, van der Heijden, Botteghin, Karsdorp – Tapia, Toornstra El Ahmadi – Elia, Jörgensen, Kuyt
Manager: Giovanni van Bronckhorst