Zorya Luhansk vs Östersund – Thursday, September 14, 20:05 BT / 21:05 CET at Arena Lviv – Lviv, Ukraine
Zorya Luhansk start their Europa League campaign on Thursday in what is supposed to be a home fixture against Swedish side Östersund. In reality, Zorya have not played at their actual home ground in the city of Luhansk in over three years, due to the ongoing conflict in the Donbass region.
Much has been said and written outside of Ukraine about the exile of the far more prominent Shakhtar Donetsk, but Zorya have had to deal with the same type of adversity with far fewer resources. Though most of their Ukrainian Premier League matches now take place in Zaporizhia, Thursday’s match will be held in Lviv, on the complete other side of the country. Lviv and Luhansk are separated by over 1,100 kilometres, which equates to roughly a seventeen-hour drive.
In spite of these circumstances, Zorya have prospered over the past few seasons and have enjoyed the most successful period of their history in an independent Ukraine. With the collapse of Dnipro and Metalist, Zorya have now assumed the mantle – at least temporarily – of Ukraine’s third club after the big two of Dynamo and Shakhtar.
But this season so far has fallen short of expectations. Instead of their strategy over the past few years of relying on Shakhtar loanees, this season Vernydub and the club’s management have opted to fill the ranks with new signings from relegated Dnipro.
Two months into the season, this approach has failed to pay dividends. Zorya lie seventh in the table, having picked up just eight points from eight matches. Vernydyb, considered one of Ukraine’s brightest young managers, has voiced his commitment to the club but has at the time hinted at a departure. Trying to build a team virtually from scratch every season is a daunting task, and the difficult season Zorya have experienced is taking its toll.
Östersund, who are currently fifth 2017 Allsvenskan season, are playing Zorya at an ideal time. With Zorya’s domestic struggles showing little signs of abating, the Swedish side will be confident of leaving Lviv with three points.
Zorya Luhansk vs Östersund – Player to look out for:
Oleksandr Kravayev # – Zorya Luhansk
Zorya’s winger Oleksandr Karavayev is one of the former Shakhtar loanees who left the club in 2016 and was immediately against sent out on loan to Turkish giants Fenerbahçe. Karavayev, however, failed to make any impact in Turkey and was deemed surplus to the requirements of new Shakhtar manager Paulo Fonseca. He returned to Zorya, the club where he enjoyed the best spell of his career, in late August on a permanent basis. The 25-year old is one of Zorya’s most talented players and has five caps with the Ukrainian national team to his name. Karavayev is eager to return to the national fold, and an impressive run of form in the Europa League will surely earn the attention of Ukraine manager Andriy Shevchenko.
Saman Ghoddos #93 Östersund
The 24-year-old Iranian-Swedish striker Saman Ghoddos is Östersunds FK top with five goals and six assists in 17 games. Eligible to play for both Iran and Sweden Ghoddos is a current national team player of Sweden. As part of the Swedish national team, Ghoddos has sparked the interest of numerous teams around Europe and has already been linked with Hertha Berlin last winter. Valued €900,000 it is understood that an interested club would have to pay in the region of €3 million to secure the services of the striker.
Zorya Luhansk vs Östersund – Match facts:
- This is not only the first ever meeting between the two sides, but neither have played a team from the home country of their opponents in European competition.
- No Swedish side have ever won a match in Ukraine in any UEFA tournament.
- Östersunds were in the fourth tier of Swedish football as recently as 2011, but have now qualified for the Europa League group stage in their first ever European campaign.
Futbolgrad’s prediction: Zorya Luhansk vs Östersund 1-1
Zorya Luhansk vs Östersund – Possible line-ups:
Lunin – Opanasenko, Priyma, Checher, Sukhotskyi – Andriyevskyi, Babenko, Hordiyenko – Karaveyev, Iury, Hromov
Coach: Yuri Vernydub
Keïta – Papagiannopoulos, Mensiro, Pettersson – Sema, Nouri, Fritzson, Björkström – Bertilsson, Ghoddos, Edwards
Coach: Graham Potter
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.