Alexander Hleb races to rescue BATE team
Only two Belarusians clubs are still battling in European Cup tournaments. BATE Borisov has made an important step on its way to the Champions League Group Stage, after drawing 0:0 in its return match against Vardar. BATE is joined by Gomel’s squad — the only Belarusian representative in the Europa League.
By Kirill Pirogov
The return match of the second qualifying round in the Europa League, hosted by the Gomel Stadium, aroused true excitement among fans — although most were more interested in Liverpool than in Renova! The winner of the match between the Belarusians and the Macedonians would have the chance of facing the famous British club. Sadly, Macedonia took victory but failed to score enough points to qualify for the next round.
Soligorsk Shakhtyor and Novopolotsk Naftan are each knocked out, with Shakhtyor failing dismally to improve on its home draw of 1:1 against Austrian Rid, despite having at least one chance of scoring another goal. The Austrian squad now continues through to the next round while Shakhtyor continues its unsuccessful Euro Cup tradition (except for Intertoto Cup the team from Soligorsk has been always knocked out in the first round of international tournaments).
Naftan’s failure had less of a bitter edge. Following Crvena Zvezda’s 4:3 win in Vitebsk, the Belarusian team was expecting a tough match in Belgrade. By the 15th minute, the Serb team had scored twice and seemed set to reach the next round. However, their exultancy didn’t last long. Even after losing their captain (Nikita Bukatkin was withdrawn in the 68th minute) Naftan managed to take the initiative and, eight minutes before the final whistle, took the lead — 3:2! However, Marko Vesovic managed to score the decisive goal during extra time.
Next week, BATE will continue in the Champions League, despite having lost its leaders to the Olympics on the eve of its match against Debrecen of Hungary. However, taking their place are Roman Vasilyuk — who recently signed a contract with the club — and Alexander Hleb — several times named as Belarus’ best footballer. Hleb’s contract lasts until August 30th. The half-back has noted his desire to ‘thank the club which launched his sporting career’. We’ll soon see how efficient his assistance will be, as Hleb will be playing at the Borisov stadium in BATE colours for the first time in 12 years.