Following the elimination of Villarreal from the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday night, Ukrainian Premier League club Shaktar Donetsk will now play in next season’s competition.
Liverpool came back from two goals down to win 3-2 on the night, taking the aggregate scoreline to 5-2. That means that the title this season will now be won by a club who have already qualified for the competition next season, with Manchester City and Real Madrid left in the competition.
Villarreal are seventh in LaLiga and cannot participate in next season’s Champions League. An unprecedented win for them in this season’s tournament would have given them an automatic ticket to next season’s competition as defending champions regardless of their league position.
According to UEFA rules, if a club qualifies for the competition in the usual way (finishing in the required league places), they lose their privilege as defending champions and it will be passed on to the highest-ranked national league that does not already have a direct place in the group stage starting in September.
Ukraine is the league in question and just before the country was invaded by Russia, Shaktar Donetsk were leading the table. This should guarantee the club a significant windfall in terms of prize money for their participation in the tournament, which will surely go into rebuilding of the club.
Shaktar Donetsk have been living in uncertainty for longer than the war, however, as its home base of Donetsk has been under siege since 2014 by Russia. With the whole country currently at war, there is a question of how ready they will be when the next season rolls around.
Still, the prospect of playing in the Champions League is one they will appreciate. Their last appearance in 2019/20 earned them €43.1 million as participation returns alongside a percentage of the television rights.