FC Naftan Novopolotsk have lifted the Belarus Cup for the first time in their history, overcoming showpiece rivals FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk 2-1 after extra time on Sunday.
Shakhtyor started the brighter of the two teams and threatened through lively striker Igor Zyulev, but Naftan held firm and soon began posing problems of their own. Indeed, it was they who took the lead, with all-time Vysshaya Liga top scorer Valeri Stripeikis running on to a fine through ball from Maksim Razumov and burying a measured shot from 20 metres out three minutes before half-time.
The response from their opponents was a pair of attacking substitutions after the break and, with Naftan refusing to sit deep and defend their advantage, the game opened up with chances at both ends. Eventually, it was Shakhtyor who found the back of the net, Sergei Kovalchuk restoring parity with just two minutes remaining.
It did not take Naftan long to restore their lead, though, as Dmitri Verkhovtsov headed in five minutes into extra time from a Filipp Rudik cross. Opportunities continued to arise for both teams and Shakhtyor midfielder Mikhail Martinovich twice hit the woodwork, yet Naftan resisted those late efforts to earn a UEFA Europa League qualifying berth and their first taste of European football.
"It would have been unfair if we'd lost this game," commented Naftan coach Igor Kovalevich. "I have so many real men in my team and I thank them all. We should have won in normal time but we had to survive a nervous finish and Kovalchuk's equaliser. Before extra time started, I told the lads they had to forget everything and start from the scratch." In the opposition camp, assistant coach Anatoly Bogovik added: "We lost and I congratulate our rivals on their victory. It has nothing to do with our fitness because we managed to recover well after our recent match against BATE, which was very demanding."
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