From afar, the UEFA Champions League Group H does not look to be overwhelming for any of the teams. In this case, however, parity is a good thing and should make for entertaining soccer. If Shakhtar can put its country’s political unrest aside, Group H may very well be one of the most entertaining groups in this year’s tournament.
Athletic Bilbao – This is a Basque team – always has been and always will be. Athletic Bilbao is a homegrown team with home-developed talent that finished fourth in La Liga and qualified for the group stage for the very first time. Considering that Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona finished ahead of them in the table, Bilbao is used to playing against top-flight competition. Both Carlos Gurpegi and Aritz Aduriz feel that the games with Porto will be classics since both teams know each other well. Neither is looking forward to the long journeys to play Shakthar and BATE.
Porto – “I came to be (a) champion.” With that statement, Jose Campana was introduced as an addition to a Porto team that clearly has its sight on the UEFA Champions League knockout stage. Julen Lopetegui, the Porto coach, is familiar with his new addition and was instrumental in bringing the 21-year-old midfielder to Portugal. The club was also able to keep Jackson (Cha Cha Cha) Martinez, their Colombian striker who should be instrumental in getting Porto out of the group and into the round of 16. Lopetegui sees Group H as an evenly balanced one with every team having an opportunity to move on.
Shakhtar Donetsk – Shakhtar has much bigger concerns than the UEFA Champions League tournament. With their country in disarray, their stadium suffering from bomb damage and armed men invading their headquarters, the Ukranians will have to play their home games in Lviv. With such concerns, it may be difficult for the team to fully focus on the task at hand. If that is the case, BATE could slip into third place. A fully-focused Shakhtar team does have the talent to advance to the round of 16. General Secretary Aleksandr Cherkasov feels that this is a good draw for the team and that the group is finely balanced.
BATE Borisov – The only team to qualify for the UEFA Champions League from Belarus is making its fourth appearance. To help their run through the Champions League, BATE recently signed defender Nemanja Tubic. Two years ago, they were one of two teams to beat eventual champion Bayern Munich and showed that they are not a team to be taken lightly. Aleksandr Yermakovich, the BATE coach, is not just happy to be in the tournament; he is looking for his team to earn points and make it difficult for the other three teams. In the process, they may steal just enough points to qualify for the Europa League.
Group H appears to be evenly matched and offers each team an opportunity to advance. There are neither overpowering nor underwhelming teams in this group, giving all four teams ample opportunity to advance in this Champions League tournament. Three teams will continue to play European tournament football and one team will go home.
Commentary By Hans Benes