Expectation is mounting ahead of the 21st Belarusian Premier League season in which FC BATE Borisov will take some stopping having won five successive championships.
BATE look strong despite the departure of players such as Sergei Veremko, Sergei Sosnovski and Mauro Alonso. They have bolstered their squad by signing Marko Simić, Mikhail Gordeychuk, Filipp Rudik, Yegor Filipenko, Andrei Scherbakov, Alex Porfirio and Evgeni Kuncevich.
That Paris Saint-Germain FC only overcame a still-hibernating BATE on away goals in last month's UEFA Europa League round of 32 shows what a tough proposition they are.
"It was an unusual winter," said coach Viktor Goncharenko. "Although we prepared for the PSG matches, we did not step up our preparations for the league season itself. I think we approached those games in good condition nonetheless and we gained experience which will serve us well. We showed we are able to play good football in February.
"Now it is interesting to see how things will go in the league. FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk, FC Minsk and FC Dinamo Minsk have strengthened. People always say ahead of a new season, 'This will be the most interesting and unpredictable.' That is hard to predict. As always some teams will break through, some will disappoint."
Shakhtyor, celebrating their 50th anniversary, have made particularly intriguing additions in experienced defenders Artyom Chelyadinski and Yury Kolomyts, midfielder Viktor Sokol, and Belarus Under-21 striker Vladimir Yurchenko. Coach Vladimir Zhuravel is optimistic. "We signed them to improve us," he said. "We took Kolomyts as we needed a right-back. I have known him a long time. He's a very decent and responsible professional who has played in Europe.
"Chelyadinski, as a former Belarusian international, has all the qualities you need. Sokol is also well-known in our country. We took him as a replacement for Ivan Denisevich who went to FC Neman Grodno. Finally, Yurchenko is very young and talented, and could be the future of Belarusian football. I hope he helps us progress".
Fourth last term, Dinamo Minsk will target a far loftier finish this time, having replaced Vladimir Golmak with Oleg Vasilenko at the helm. The new coach has a host of fresh talent at his disposal following the arrivals of Vyacheslav Hleb, Leonid Kovel, Bruno Zita Mbanangoye, Aleksandr Bychenok, Eduard Zhevnerov, Mikhail Afanasiev, Sergei Politevich, Robert Zebelyan and Rafael Ledesma.
"We are a great club with a tradition of success," said Vasilenko. "We are always fighting at the top of the table, so it is not hard to guess our ambitions for the campaign. We are an ambitious group and we want the best results. We want to achieve something for the team and for ourselves.
"If you want to win you have to avoid any fear of losing, but that does not mean going gung-ho. In football there is a fine line between attacking and defensive play. We want to play intelligent football that pleases players, journalists, fans and pundits alike. But the most important thing is that our football gets results".
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