The return of John Terry to the Chelsea team and captaincy had been steeped in controversy, coming as it did while he served his four-match domestic suspension for the racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand. As this vital Champions League tie emphatically got away from him and the defending champions, it seemed almost appropriate that a Shakhtar Donetsk player called Fernandinho should not only star but conjure up the decisive blow.
There had been bitter irony at the outset when Terry saw the ball rear up against the captain's armband, which was embroidered with an anti-racism slogan, to drop for Alex Teixeira to score Shakhtar's opening goal. Terry played well, making characteristically brave interventions, but his team were second best in all areas and once Fernandinho had punished the substitute Eden Hazard to score their second it appeared to be a question only of the victory margin.
The surprise at the end was how narrow it was. Shakhtar missed chances, Petr Cech distinguished himself in the Chelsea goal and it was Oscar, stealing in to meet Branislav Ivanovic's cross, who reduced the deficit and sparked brief alarm inside a jubilant stadium. An outlandish escape for the visitors, however, was not to happen.
Roberto Di Matteo, the Chelsea manager, had suggested that this was a journey into the unknown as, despite Shakhtar's 100% domestic record from 12 games this season, little was known about the strength of the Ukrainian league. The home team's performance represented an exhilarating statement while Chelsea, so exciting during their encouraging start to the season, suffered a jolting blow.
The consolation, though, which was significant, arrived in Denmark, where Juventus could only draw 1-1 against Nordsjaelland, the weakest team in the group. Chelsea remain in second place although a win for Shakhtar at Stamford Bridge next month would see the Ukrainian side through.
It felt as though all eyes were on Terry at the start and even the TV director who supplied the cut for the stadium's big screen focused on him during the pre-match build-up, when Uefa's anti-racism message was read out over the Tannoy. There were not even three minutes on the clock when the captain tasted misfortune, too, his block-tackle on Luiz Adriano seeing the ball hit an arm and fall kindly for Teixeira, who calmly shot low into the far corner.
There was a swagger about the home team's football with their technique, comfort on the ball and threat most pronounced in the three-man line behind Adriano, where Teixeira and Willian flanked the Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Willian was magnificent and showed Chelsea, who have tried to sign him, why Shakhtar value him at a prohibitive price for most. The Blues, who lost Frank Lampard to an 18th-minute muscle pull and had Ashley Cole needlessly booked, saw their frustration encapsulated in Fernando Torres' performance.
The team sprang him into good areas in the first half but the Spaniard failed to fashion shooting opportunities and early in the second period his touch and decision-making completely broke down. It seemed a relief when he was substituted.
But for Cech, the game might have been over at half-time. He tipped over Mkhitaryan's drive following Willian's lovely flick and after a Dario Srna corner had led to chaos and Oscar had failed to clear, the goalkeeper thwarted Tomas Hubschman brilliantly at point-blank range. Chelsea could also be grateful to Terry for a couple of vital interventions.
Fernandinho was an all-action presence, snapping at Chelsea heels and helping to set Shakhtar's tempo with his intelligent distribution. He started and finished the move for the second goal, crashing into Hazard to win the ball on halfway and driving forward on the break. The Belgian was crestfallen, Chelsea horribly exposed. Fernandinho swapped passes with Adriano, taking the return smoothly despite stretching, and hit his shot inside the far post.
Chelsea had their moments in the second half. Ramires exploded a shot from distance, Hazard nearly exposed Olexandr Kucher – who fouled him and was booked – Mikel John Obi pivoted and lifted over and Hazard, having wriggled through, was denied a one-on-one by Andriy Pyatov. Yet it was Shakhtar's night.
Fernandinho, Mkhitaryan and Hubschman will ask themselves how they did not add to the lead, although Cech might help them explain. For Chelsea the tests continue to come. It is the potentially defining Premier League fixture at home to Manchester United on Sunday. They must regroup.