LISBON Ė Despite succumbing to a shock 3-2 home defeat to relative minnows Shakhtar Donetsk last week, the Ukrainian sideís coach, Portuguese Luis Castro, told EFE in an interview that ďMadrid is still MadridĒ and remains one of the favorites to go all the way this season and add to its record haul of 13 Champions League wins.
The victory over Real was doubly surprising given that Shakhtarís first team squad was decimated by a COVID-19 outbreak that saw 13 players sidelined for the match in Madrid.
The team will take on Inter Milan in its next group stage match on Tuesday and will be once again relying on stellar performances from the host of fringe squad players who stepped up on Oct. 21 against Real.
Did Shakhtar win or did Real lose?
Madrid is still Madrid, it is always among the best teams in the world, if not the best. There is another one that is very good, Bayern, but Madrid will always be Madrid. Historic clubs with the best players and coaches in the world. We have to speak with respect.
It is true that that day we took advantage of some carelessness from Real, but they did not lose Ė Shakhtar won, that is a fair description of what happened. We played to a very high level and Madrid did not play well that day, not like they did against Barcelona (on Saturday, when the Merengues secured an impressive 3-1 victory). We had a less-inspired Madrid and Shakhtar had a very inspired day. We played a fantastic first half. And then, after they had got two goals back, we defended the 3-2 lead really well. In the first half we knew how to attack well, and in the second we knew how to defend well.
Players like Brazilians Tete, 20, or Marlos, 32, really shone.
When you win a match like we did against Madrid, itís only possible as a team. Tete and Marlos were very good during the game, they made assists, goals, they missed goals, they were very involved. Tete has a lot of room for improvement and in some moments, he reaches very high levels. It is part of the Shakhtar project: to acquire young players, to train them, to make them profitable and to put them on the market.
A legion of Ukrainians and Brazilians. How do you communicate with the squad?
We speak Portuguese with a translator because half of the playing staff (13) is Brazilian, and for the other half, the translator speaks Ukrainian. Solomon, who is Israeli, understands Portuguese well, and Khocholava, who is Georgian, understands Ukrainian.
How do the two styles marry?
The Ukrainian style is more disciplined, more rigid Ė he likes to know what to do in each moment (of the game). The Brazilians prefer the freedom of movement in offensive moments.
COVID-19 has really diminished the players available for selection.
Some people are recovering, but you know what COVID is like. It forces us to stay out for 10 days, and when they come back, they are somewhat weakened. World leaders donít say what happens when they have COVID, it leaves marks that they donít talk about, in the lungs, in the heart. And their recovery takes time. Itís extremely dangerous and weíre in that process. Those who are playing are getting worn out because they have to play every three days, and those who got infected arenít fit because they havenít trained in days. So we have players who are very tired and others who are not prepared. We are going through the most difficult time of the season.
How will you face Inter on Tuesday with all these players unavailable?
It will be very difficult for us. We have to get the players back as quickly as possible, but itís not easy. We still have a lot of absentees, with players who canít train yet, who are not well. Some of them will make it into the squad, weíll see. We do things day by day. Inter has strengthened itself with world-class players and is looking to become Italian champions, it is one of the best clubs in Europe. We always think we can do well and go into games with confidence, itís what guides us every day.
What does Shakhtar hope to achieve in the Champions League?
Talking about goals in the Champions League is talking about the unknown, something very complex. In the Champions League, everything happens very quickly. All the games are very difficult and are great battles. You canít predict, so the best thing is to work in a dignified way.
And what about the goals of the Luis Castro project?
Life teaches you to live day by day. Last year, we won the league with a 23-point difference over the second placed team, and we reached the semifinals of the Europa League. In the future (Ö) I donít know what will happen. What we want is to be champions with Shakhtar and then to listen to those who are interested in our work. But our focus is Shakhtar.
Portuguese football is very popular and successful at the moment.
The academies are doing very well with very competent coaches. The national team beat France in the final of the European Championship, the coaches are very successful abroad as well. And Portuguese soccer has a lot of visibility. Portugal is really a football country, of coaches, of players, and Iím glad that Portugal is living this kind of success.