By Yuri Karpenko
Despite the Austrian match at Minsk’s Dynamo Stadium leading to a fair draw of 1:1, few believed BATE would see victory at the return match in Austria; it’s always more difficult to play far away from home. Moreover, the Borisov footballers really needed a win to go through to the next stage.
Neither team presented an optimum line-up in Graz. The Austrians’ leading forward, Roman Kienast, was absent due to injury while BATE was missing experienced halfbacks Dmitry Likhtarovich and Alexander Pavlov. On the eve of the meeting, the tension was palpable. BATE head coach Victor Goncharenko noted, “When the Champions League Anthem is played, emotions brim over. Our opponent is good in defence while being well organised; they use others’ mistakes to their advantage.”
In the return match, Vitaly Rodionov was the first to scope out Sturm’s goal, making a risky long-distance kick in the first minute. Artem Kontsevoy soon seized the moment, with his shot saved by the Austrian goalkeeper. However, BATE laid the first stone in the foundation of their success during the 36th minute. Edgar Olekhnovich made a pass from the field’s centre to Alexander Volodko, who scored unexpectedly from 25m, sending the ball tightly under the bar. The Austrians then became evidently more nervous, which affected their play.
During the 70th minute, the Borisov footballers scored again, in a similar fashion to their goal of the previous week at Dynamo Stadium. Again, Dmitry Baga took a penalty kick, with Marko Simic heading the ball directly under the bar. In the remaining time, BATE primarily focused on defending their goal. However, they still created a few tense moments near their rival’s net. By the final whistle, the scoreboard showed 2:0 in BATE’s favour.
“This is our holiday and we’ve deserved it,” noted Mr. Goncharenko at an after-match press conference. “It’s a fantastic achievement for our club and country. Over a short period of time, BATE has become a frequent player in Champions League and Europa League group tournaments. We’ve acquired great experience, which helped us in the match against Sturm. Few believed in us after our home draw but we’ve achieved our goal.”
This is the second time that Belarus’ seven-time champion has reached the Champions League group stage. The Borisov players last achieved this in the 2008/2009 season, joining Real Madrid, Juventus Turin and Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League’s foremost round.
This time, the draw in Monaco has seen rivals chosen for BATE in H Group of no less star quality. Barcelona has four times won the tournament, being the current holder of the Champions League cup; meanwhile, Milan has won the event seven times. Viktoria of the Czech Republic is yet to boast any grand successes at European level but will no doubt be keen to prove itself worthy.
Matches will be held from September 13th to December 7th, with two teams from each group reaching the next round. Those occupying third place in each quartet will go to the play-offs of the Europa League — Europe’s second most important club tournament.