Gazprom, the former Soviet ministry which is the largest extractor of gas in the world, have bought their way on to the list of the competition's multi-million pound sponsors, and the timing of their interest is entirely appropriate because this season no shortage of clubs from Eastern Europe are trying to get a piece of the on-field action.
Somewhat remarkably, no club side from Russia or Ukraine have ever reached the final of the European Cup or Champions League, with the only interlopers from beyond the Iron Curtain being Red Star Belgrade (winners in 1991), Partizan Belgrade (runners-up back in 1966), and Steaua Bucharest (winners 1986, then runners-up 1989). Moreover, eight years have come and gone since any club from outwith England, Spain, Italy or Germany reached the final, but this year there are some new kids from the Eastern bloc who mean business, not to mention a more convincing challenge than usual from France – albeit one bankrolled from Qatar.
This wasn't actually the greatest of debuts for the two Russian entrants, Spartak Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg, who both went down in difficult away matches in Spain. While Aiden McGeady's Spartak – next up for Celtic – appeared on course to record a famous victory at Camp Nou, two goals from Lionel Messi saw them return to Russia empty handed. McGeady's evening was mixed – having laid on what could have been the winner for Brazil midfielder Romulo, he was unable to halt the charge of Barca youngster Cristian Tello in the lead-up to the equaliser.
Zenit St Petersburg starred in an even less satisfactory Spanish adventure, going down 3-0 to debutants Malaga at La Roseleda. The Russians, sponsored by Gazprom, have added Hulk to their attacking options this season, but they went a couple of goals down and were unable to recover.
There were no such slip-ups from Shakhtar Donetsk, however, the heavyweight Ukrainian club who reached the quarter finals in this competition 12 months back. The wily Mircea Lucescu fielded no fewer than seven Brazilian-born players in his squad for the comfortable 2-0 win over Danish champions FC Nordsjaelland but the goals came from prolific Armenian forward Henrik Myhitaryan. Their domestic challengers Dynamo Kyiv were comfortably dispatched by big-spending Paris St-Germain, who did little to defy the notion that they are an intriguing outside bet for this competition.
Some of the other success stories were rather more surprising. BATE Borisov, of Belarus, now have favoured son Aleksandr Hleb back in harness and they recorded a stunning maiden victory in this competition away to Lille – further evidence that Belarus, a nation of 9.7m people, is emerging in the sport. That example was followed by CFR Cluj, of Romania, who shocked Braga 2-0 in Portugal, courtesy of a couple of goals from Rafael Bastos. Not only was Bastos formerly employed by Braga, he was one of eight Cluj players who were either Portuguese or had previously played for clubs in that country. Who says small countries can't compete in the Champions League any more?