The Moldovan First Division resumes this weekend after a three-month winter break with leaders FC Sheriff ten points clear of FC Dacia Chisinau, who in turn have an 11-point cushion in second. Unlike the previous two seasons, therefore, it appears the top two spots are all but settled with 13 fixtures remaining.
Dacia surprisingly ended Sheriff's dominance in 2011 and last term only four points separated the sides. They look unlikely to catch Sheriff this time, though, with an unusually quiet winter – including the cancellation of their proposed training camp in Turkey – doing nothing to boost their chances. Indeed, the departures of defender Gorance Dimovski and midfielder Nicolae Josan to third-placed FC Tiraspol leave them seeming slightly weakened.
Despite all this, with much of the spine of his team intact, coach Igor Dobrovolski remains defiant. "Is it possible to catch Sheriff? Why not," said the 45-year-old former Soviet Union midfielder. "Sheriff have been able to create that gap but there was a time when we cut it to four points. I think 13 matches is a long time, anything can happen. We will definitely not give up."
By contrast, Dobrovolski's Sheriff counterpart Mihai Stoichiță already has his sights set on Europe. "We have to get used to the standard of play we will come up against in European competition," said the 58-year-old. "We should easily win the league and then to try to qualify for the group stage of a European tournament. This is my goal with Sheriff."
Also with one eye on continental competition are Tiraspol, who were most recently involved in UEFA Cup qualifying in 2004. Buoyed by the arrivals of Anatoli Cheptine, Dimovski and Josan, Vlad Goian's charges appear primed to hold off FC Milsami Orhei, a point behind in fourth. "We are 100% ready," Goian told UEFA.com. "I am happy with the transfers we have made and I am happy with the job we've done during our training camps. Now we have to prove on the pitch that we are ready to win the bronze medal and play in Europe."
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