DONETSK, Ukraine, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Big spending Shakhtar Donetsk hope their investment will pay off as they begin another assault on Europe's premier club competition.
Shakhtar, backed by the deep pockets of Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, have spent over $70 million on players in the close season, including shelling out a record $27.4 million for Mexican striker Nery Castillo.
That made it the most expensive transfer in the history of all former Soviet states.
Another import, 19-year-old midfielder Villian, has cost $19 million, fellow Brazilian Islihno -- $13.7 million and veteran Italy striker Cristiano Lucarelli another $11 million.
It will be up to Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu to blend this expensive group into a cohesive unit for yet another tilt at European glory.
The temperamental Romanian guided the Donetsk side to the Ukrainian league title in his first season at the helm in 2004 and repeated the feat the following year, but so far has been unable to transfer their form to Europe.
Lucescu, who won the UEFA Super Cup with Turkey's Galatasaray in 2000, is eager for similar success with Shakhtar before moving to a top European club.
Last season, Shakhtar came agonisingly close to making a major impact in Europe when they led Sevilla 2-1 in the second leg of their UEFA Cup second round tie with just seconds remaining. But Sevilla keeper Andres Palop ran the length of the field to score a last-gasp equaliser.
The Spaniards then added another in extra time to win 3-2 and later went on to claim their second consecutive UEFA Cup.
"We have all the attributes for success, a talented squad, great training facilities, a passionate and wealthy owner," Lucescu said. "I hope this is Shakhtar's year."
If Lucescu is to succeed in his dream of making Shakhtar a major name in Europe, he must do it without his long-time captain, tireless midfielder Anatoly Timoshchyuk, sold to wealthy Russian club Zenit St Petersburg for $20 million.