FC Rostov only stayed in the Russian Premier League via the play-offs last season – but now they are nestling among the favourites near the summit of the division and are already dreaming of Europe.
Following the international break, Rostov resume their campaign against PFC CSKA Moskva on Saturday, kick-off 11.30CET, sitting in fourth place, and victory would move them level with the Army Men at the top. Rostov's recently-capped Russian international defender Vitali Dyakov says that was always the plan.
"From the very beginning we wanted to be as high as possible," he told UEFA.com. "We started the season believing in ourselves and with hopes of doing better than last term. For the moment we are doing well. The bad match was against Lokomotiv Moskva [a 5-0 loss], but we have a reason for that: two players were sent off. The other matches went well and we will try to keep our place among the leaders."
That said, he is realistic. "We want to finish in the top ten," the 24-year-old added. "We can make it. It is hard to fight for the medals, but to finish seventh or eighth is realistic. We are at the same standard as the teams who are battling for these places."
Key to Rostov's fast start has been goalscoring, seven of their 13 claimed by on-loan FC Spartak Moskva forward Artem Dzyuba. "He has done very well," Dyakov said. "He is helping and is proving that he can be useful also to Spartak. All the team play around him and create chances for him, and I believe he will keep scoring."
However, Dyakov pointed out: "[Croatia goalkeeper] Stipe Pletikosa is the main reason why we are that high in the table. He is a very experienced player, our captain on and off the field."
The coach's role cannot be underestimated, either. Montenegrin Miodrag Božović, 45, has been based in Russia for six years, doing well at FC Amkar Perm and FC Moskva but having a less happy time at FC Dinamo Moskva.
Appointed by Rostov in 2011 – having left Dinamo earlier that year following a cup loss to his present employers – Božović is one of the tallest coaches in European football at 196cm and hoping to achieve new heights with the southern side. "He has created a great atmosphere in the team," said Dyakov.
"He makes jokes and also allows jokes about himself. We are always positive and this is half the battle. Training sessions also are interesting – we work a lot with the ball, without a lot of running. I don't want to offend Russian coaches, but they often are very strict. Božović has a foreign mentality."
That could come in handy if Rostov qualify for continental competition their sole experience so far UEFA Intertoto Cup campaigns in 1999 and 2000. "Why not?" asks Dyakov. "FC Kuban also didn't have a superstar squad, nor a specific leader on the pitch, but they proved themselves a united team, finished fifth and now are debutants in the UEFA Europa League.
"Why can't we repeat that? If we will continue like in the matches against Anji Makhachkala [a 1-0 away win] or Dinamo [1-1 away draw] we have a great chance of playing in Europe next year."
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