A month after the war that has changed all our lives and a similar period without an official match, Maccabi return to action on Thursday (22:00) as they face Ukrainian outfit Zorya Luhansk in the Conference League. Maccabi’s players who spent most of their time since October 7th consoling families who lost their loved ones, suffered injuries, were kidnapped into Gaza or re-rooted from their homes – will try and restore some national pride. Robbie Keane’s charges will try and bring some moments of joy at a difficult time but shortly before facing Zorya on MD4, we take time to get to know our forthcoming opponent.

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Representing the city of Luhansk in the Donbas region in the East of Ukraine, one of the main conflict points in the ongoing war with Russia forcing the club to relocate to the west of the country and play mostly in the capital of Kiev. Despite experiencing difficulties like the rest of the country, in professional footballing terms Zorya experienced a successful campaign which saw them end the 2022/23 Ukrainian league season in third place. As a result, Zorya began their European qualifying campaign in the Playoff phase of the Europa League before a defeat by Slavia Prague saw them earn a Conference League group stage berth.

Photo: FC Zorya Luhansk Facebook ()

Just like Maccabi, Zorya played two matches in the Group stage holding Gent to a 1-1 in Poland and recording a 1-0 victory over Icelandic outfit Breidablik.

While the Israeli league was forced to suspend its’ activity since October 7th, the Ukrainian league on the other hand is well underway. Having played 11 matches, Zorya, are currently ranked 13th with one victory from their last eight matches, on the back of a 2-2 draw at the weekend and with two matches in hand.

Due to the war in their home country, Zorya host their European matches at the 15,000 capacity Lublin Arena which was opened in 2014 in Lublin, Poland. Valeriy Kryventsov (50) was appointed for the role in September as the former Ukrainian player replacing Nenad Lalatovic of Serbia who began the current season. Kryventsov took charge of Zorya after two years as the head coach of Metalist Kharkiv and several years at the Youth Academy of Shakhtar Donetsk where he spent most of his playing career.

Photo: FC Zorya Luhansk Facebook ()

When Guerrero reunited with Eduardo Guerrero.

In terms of Zorya’s playing squad, a familiar face is their Panamanian forward and former Maccabi player Eduardo Guerrero. The 23-year-old Panamanian joined Maccabi’s Youth Academy at the age if 17 before advancing to the first team and scoring 10 goals in 53 appearances between 2020-2022. Guerrero, who also had loan spells at Hapoel and Beitar Jerusalem, joined Zorya following his coach at Maccabi Patrick van Leeuwen who guided the Ukrainian side to 3rd place last season before taking charge of Shakhtar. Guerrero is Zorya’s leading scorer in the league with 4 goals to his name and 6 in all competitions.

Despite the ongoing war, Zorya has several other foreign players in their squad namely 24-year-old Brazilian central defender Jordan and 19-year-old fellow countryman Wendel. Serbian attacking midfielder, Petar Micin (25) and 19-year-old central midfielder Kodjo Aziangbe of Togo completes the list of foreigners to compliment the rest of the squad which is Ukrainian. Arseniy Batagov (21) is a highly regarded central defender for Zorya making 25 international appearances for the Ukraine U21 national side while another key player is Denys Antyukh (26) is a former Dynamo Kiev winger who scored 3 goals this season.

Photo: FC Zorya Luhansk Facebook ()