Despite embarking on only their second season in Estonia's premier division, FC Infonet have already established themselves as a force to be reckoned with.
The driver behind their lofty ascent is wily coach Aleksandr Puštov, part of the 1992 Estonia team that drew 1-1 with Slovenia in their first international match since regaining independence. The former defender has since exhibited his talents on the domestic scene, leading Infonet to promotion in 2012 and a sixth-place finish on their top-flight debut the following season. Now, seven matches into the 2014 campaign, Puštov's men are fourth, a point shy of nine-time champions FC Flora Tallinn and JK Nõmme Kalju.
"We should be pleased with our start – we have played a mature brand of football and are among the leading pack," the 50-year-old told UEFA.com. "It has been an even game when we have played some of the big Estonian clubs, which says a lot about our potential. We have reached a level that allows us to compete with the top clubs. We felt we would be extremely competitive before the season had even begun."
Puštov's formula hinges on giving youth the opportunity to flourish, with leading marksman Maksim Lipin and 17-year-old Eduard Golovljov, who scored the winner in Infonet's eye-catching 3-2 victory at Flora last month, evidence of its success. "It has always been our philosophy to let players prove their quality and develop. Results have shown we are on the right path," said Puštov, whose belief permeates the dressing room. "The atmosphere within the team is great. All the players have great self-confidence."
Goalkeeper Matvei Igonen, 17, is another ambitious youngster in a side also possessing vital experience in players such as 38-year-old midfielder Konstantin Nahk and 36-year-old defender Andrei Kalimullin, who have won 13 Meistriliiga championships between them. "I know their human and footballing qualities – they create a good balance," explained Puštov, who is eager to explore the continent.
Indeed, Infonet will most likely feature in next term's UEFA Europa League should they hold their nerve in the last four of the Estonian Cup and face reigning champions FC Levadia Tallinn in the showpiece. "I think we are ready to compete in Europe both physically and mentally," said Puštov. "It is one of our goals this season."
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