It seems only a short while ago the entire world was holding its breath watching the events in Germany football fields, where the best teams of the planet competed for more than a month to reveal the strongest and to name the champion. The Italian team turned out to be the best. However, it did not allow the team to skip the European cup qualification games, which are scheduled to start in early September. Among other things worth telling you is the fact that Italians will play in the same group with… France. A nice turn of destiny. Pity that Materazzi and Zidane will not face each other, as the latter stopped playing for his national team. A sequel to the sensational thriller “Zidane’s Butt Giving” would have certainly been worth seeing…
However, all these are things of the past. Every team is approaching the cup with new hopes, intentions and expectations. The Belarusian team is no exception.
So far Belarusian fans’ dreams of the Belarusian team playing in the finals of top tournaments remain just dreams. Fans are boiling over and pointing fingers at the neighbours: Russia and Ukraine and even Latvia, which has ever been a football loser, managed to make an appearance at prestigious events, some at world ones, some at European ones. So the fans naturally demand their national team to achieve just the same results.
However, big luck is still avoiding Belarus. It is curious that during every qualification stage the team has seemingly good chances of making the dreams come true, but somehow fails to hit the target. The chances of entering the grand football were thickest in 2002, when Eduard Malofeyev was at the helm of the team. A landmark figure in the Belarusian football, a legendary football player and a coach, he played football and then headed the USSR team, saw Minsk Dinamo make all the way to the Soviet Union champion title. All in all, the entire nation loved him. However, starting out with positive background, they finished the road at a cemetery. After failing to beat Wales in a decisive match, Belarus did not make it to the last car of the train bound for the world championship and was left to wait for another one.
Four years after the team once again tried to buy a ticket for this honourable express, take a place in the compartmental car and travel to Germany. Once again the team had every chance to make it. This time Anatoliy Baidachnyi was the head coach: someone a less authoritative, less popular with the fans, but one with a professional attitude and experience of working for Russian premier league clubs as well as Asian national teams.
Everything looked good, the team played magnificent football, earning points, with European scale stars — such as undoubtedly Valentin Belkevich, captain of Kiev Dinamo for many years, and Alexander Gleb, one of the best players of London Arsenal — staging solo performances. However, a remembrance of the past, some kind of deja vu, an unexplainable failure occurred just in the end of the run. Thrashing from Moldova upset the applecart and the team balance went out of the window. A conflict sparkled inside it, which resulted in the team’s leader Sergei Gurenko leaving the team. At the end of the qualifications Baidachnyi himself was forced to leave, as they refused to prolong his contract term.
Many pieces of gossip were heard about who will be the new head coach of the Belarusian national team. Czech specialists were named, including Dusan Uhrin and Jozef Chovanec. But Yuri Puntus filled the post, a sensation many fell victim to.
Puntus is very well-known in Belarus. He’s been working long and successfully with BATE team from Borisov, the team which has been the country’s champion since 1996. He is one of the most successful coaches in Belarus. Puntus was successful at the level of national teams as well. His name is linked to the most striking success of the Belarusian football so far — the youth team entry to the European cup finals in 2004, which by the way was held in Germany. The Belarusian team played no whipping boy and even beat the future champion — Italy, which had such stars as Toni Gilardino and Daniele De Rossi… However, the team stumbled and did not make it to the semi-finals.
And here is another stage in Yuri Puntus’ career, new hopes for wonder. Will he be able, will it happen? Anyway, the new coach vigorously got down to rejuvenating the team, brought in a dozen of new football players, those who sweated all over working hard during youth competitions. However, Puntus is not going to reject the old guard fast, he doesn’t shoot from the hip. Contrariwise, he is trying to get “disgraced” Sergei Gurenko back in the country’s most important team, hoping to get Valentin Belkevich, who hurried to claim he wasn’t going to play for Belarus anymore, to play football once again as part of the national team. And certainly Gleb is Puntus’ biggest hope — they’ve been walking through this life together for quite a while, everyone knows they have fantastic relations.
Besides, Belarus’ rivals look rather beatable. Belarus had hands-on experience with Holland — not once the destiny made the two team face each other in the same group and Belarus even managed to beat the “Flying Dutchmen”. Romania isn’t in its best shape. Slovenia’s level is practically the same while Albania’s is even lower. So the fans’ hopes for success are justified. They are waiting pointing fingers at the neighbours. Russia, Ukraine, and even Latvia have made it into the top league. Now it’s Belarus’ turn…
by Sergei Komarov