Unbeaten since the winter break, FC Tiraspol have earned the affections of fans in Moldova with their attractive brand of football. They currently sit third in the Moldovan First Dvision, just two points adrift of second-placed FC Dacia Chisinau. Should they manage to leapfrog the capital club in the remaining weeks of the season, they would secure their best league finish since they were formed in 2001.
Based in the city of the same name, Tiraspol have spent much of their 12-year existence in the shadow of FC Sheriff, Moldova's most successful outfit. A commitment to developing young domestic players culminated in a run to the third round of the 2006 UEFA Intertoto Cup, but the club have not qualified for European competition since 2008.
A growing desire for continental football prompted a change in philosophy, with more experienced players being added to the squad. Vlad Goian, who previously led FC Iskra-Stal to third and fourth-placed finishes, was appointed coach in early 2011. There was no immediate upturn in fortunes, Tiraspol coming seventh, then sixth in Goian's first two campaigns.
But things have improved markedly this term. With team spirit blossoming, Tiraspol ended the first stage of the season in third position, and have gone from strength to strength thanks to smart dealings in the transfer market.
"Our goal is to finish in the top three," Goian told UEFA.com in January, but this looks like the least they can hope for following victories against FC Milsami Orhei and Sheriff. Tiraspol have scored more goals (20) and conceded fewer (two) than any other side in 2013.
Despite their recent success, the Tiraspol players are determined to keep their feet on the ground. "Second place is very close but our main goal is to secure third," forward Alexandru Popovici told UEFA.com. "We are close to achieving our goal – but of course wouldn't complain if we did even better.
"We have plenty of good players and competition for places is high. This helps us progress and gives us stability on the pitch. If somebody is injured, another player can come in and do a good job," added Popovici, whose experience of playing in Germany, Ukraine and South Korea lends invaluable nous to the Tiraspol front line.
Tiraspol's fine form has not been limited to the league either. They face Sheriff in the Moldovan Cup semi-finals today, bidding to reach the final for the first time. Should they manage that feat and prolong their impressive run in the Moldovan First Division, this will go down as their most successful campaign ever.
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