By Yuri Karpenko
Squads are now competing for entry into the 2012 European Championship finals continent-wide. Much water has flowed under the bridge since the Belarusian team made its sensational win early in the tournament; in Paris they defeated the undisputed favourite of D Group — 1:0. The situation has now drastically changed, with Laurent Blanc’s team winning all four matches over the past nine months and confidently topping the tournament rankings. Belarus has earned just five points over the same number of matches.
The titled guests were eager to take revenge for their offensive defeat at Stade de France and came to Minsk with their optimal line-up — stars Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri, Patrice Evra and Eric Abidal among them. Meanwhile, the Belarusian squad was missing over half of its most experienced footballers — including distinguished Alexander Hleb, Vitaly Kutuzov, Alexander Kulchy and Sergey Kornilenko. Head coach Stange instructed his players to fight seriously, with the hope of performing a miracle and pleasing fans at the Dynamo Stadium. His French colleague also foresaw a tough match and primarily focused on his defence.
In fact, the two teams appeared pretty equally matched, with a logical draw as the result. In the middle of the first half, the rivals exchanged goals, though the beginning of the match was wary. Initially, the French took a territorial advantage but failed to pose a real threat. Later, the initiative passed to the Belarusians, with Igor Shitov in defence being the first to disturb goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. He sent the ball into the corner and, after Timofey Kalachev’s penalty shot, Eric Abidal fought against Maxim Bordachev, scoring an own goal! However, Belarus could not enjoy its success for long. Soon, Bacary Sagna and Karim Benzema were helping Florent Malouda to score from the centre of the penalty box and Sergey Veremko failed to save the shot.
The first half ended to French advantage. Blanc’s team possessed the ball several times, creating some unsafe situations. However, Benzema failed to make a precise kick and, after Ribery’s appearance from behind the penalty box, the ball passed near the bar. The Belarusians counter-attacked, though creating no near-goals.
At the beginning of the second half, the situation levelled off, with Belarus managing to push their rival farther from its goal. They made several dangerous attacks but the French defence repelled them easily. After an hour, the guests began to attack more decisively and, not long before the final whistle, Stange sent Sergey Kislyak onto the field. During the September match, the halfback had played well; sadly, he failed to save the situation this time.
The point earned by Belarus during the match helps them remain in second place in D Group, continuing on in their struggle for a place at the European Championship finals.