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FC BATE Borisov coach Viktor Goncharenko is confident that the Belarussian champions are "on the right track" as they mount a new UEFA Champions League challenge.
Having broken new ground by competing in the 2008/09 group stage, BATE are bidding for a return after being drawn against FH Hafnarfjördur in this season's second qualifying round. "All our work is geared towards preparing the team for European competition," said Goncharenko, who turned 33 on 10 June.
"Last season we started well but then suffered a slump in both matches against Latvia's FK Ventspils and bowed out," he said. "In 2008 it took us a while to hit our stride but we were in great physical shape in the middle and at the end of the season. That is why I ask everyone to be patient because we are on the right track."
BATE made a punishing start to their new domestic season, going unbeaten through their first 13 games without even conceding a goal, until they lost 2-1 at home against FC Minsk. "This setback was sobering for our players," said Goncharenko, whose side reacted positively, trouncing FC Neman Grodno 5-0 in their next game.
They won the Belarus Cup by the same margin the morning after the UEFA Champions League final, with Goncharenko showing he had learned from past mistakes by sending his players to bed at half-time as FC Internazionale Milano beat FC Bayern München. "We got our fingers burned many times letting the lads stay up late before big matches," he said. "Football punishes you for things like that. That's why we only let them watch the first half, and I think they understood. They were rewarded with a cup win, but you can never win enough. You shouldn't be obsessed with titles and trophies, but must always have a new goal to aim for."
Their goal this season is to match that 2008/09 achievement and reach the group stage again; no small task given that they have lost the likes of star midfielder Sergei Krivets, who joined Polish champions Lech Poznań in the winter. However, Goncharenko has high hopes for his replacement, Brazilian Renan Bressan, recently signed from FC Gomel. "Renan is already one of the team leaders," he said. "He creates a lot of danger, is good at set pieces and is our top scorer."
"I like to win very much, just like my new club," said the 21-year-old Renan, who added with a certain sense of awe: "To understand how strong BATE are you have to play against them at least once. I did that at Gomel. I can assure you that you cannot afford to make a mistake against BATE because they will punish you."
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