Eight-time Moldovan champions FC Zimbru Chişinău have stolen the headlines with eight successive victories which have revitalised their European ambitions.
Zimbru were the major players in Moldova during the 1990s, landing eight First Division titles between 1992 and 2000. Two UEFA Champions League appearances brought further kudos, yet that was before FC Sheriff dethroned them in winning eight titles of their own.
Zimbru certainly looked forlorn during the first half of this season, trailing third-placed FC Dacia Chişinău by 18 points at the turn of the year. They are anything but stragglers now, however, sitting level with Dacia and five points off second-placed FC Iskra-Stali (although leaders Sheriff remain 15 points in the distance).
Coach Ivan Tabanov, who took the helm for a second time last April, has been widely credited for Zimbru's steady revival. "Every coach always wants his players to win and I'm no different," he said.
"It's no coincidence that we've won eight in a row. We have held the upper hand in every game and have looked better, but I admit that I didn't think at the start of the year we would beat everyone. The secret? The players worked hard during the winter break and we signed some quality additions. It's very important to encourage the team. But once we got that first win, the confidence was there."
One of the recruits, centre-back Andrian Sosnovschi from FC Olimpia Bălţi, has become a key performer. "I didn't know Tabanov before I came to Zimbru," he said. "I'd only met him as an opponent when I faced his teams. He has created a real unity in a team that is ready to achieve its goals. Tabanov's best quality is that he's open with the players and always ready to help us."
There is praise too from Tabanov's peers. "Tabanov is a young coach with a decent reputation," said Iskra-Stali trainer Vlad Goian. "I like him both as a professional and as a person. Zimbru's winning streak is largely down to him." The man himself, though, is not yet satisfied. "Our goal for the season is to qualify for the UEFA Europa League, and we're doing all we can," Tabanov concluded.
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