One of the giants of Moldovan football, the trail has gone cold in recent years for FC Zimbru Chisinau, who won the last of their eight national titles in 2000 as FC Sheriff took centre stage.
However, there is hope that the dog days may soon be over, after their 3-1 win against the Tiraspol giants in this season's Moldovan Cup final. "You did a huge thing," Zimbru president Nicolae Ciornai told his players after their triumph on 25 May brought the 'Bison' their sixth cup. "At last we have won the cup and made our many fans happy. You wrote a glorious page in our history and I am grateful to you. You have been a proper team, real men. That is the only way to be successful."
The sense of relief was palpable at the club – the only Moldovan side to have featured in the Soviet Top League during that era. Since their last cup victory in 2007, Zimbru had not reached another final or finished in the top two in the First Division. Coaches have come and gone frequently, with five changes in 2012/13 alone. Another change after a poor start to this season brought in Belarusian specialist Oleg Kubarev, the 48-year-old who guided FC Gomel to domestic cup glory in 2011.
Kubarev's winter training camp heralded a significant upturn in fortunes, as Zimbru climbed from seventh to fourth by the end of the campaign. "With his arrival, we became more disciplined," midfielder Anatoli Cheptine told UEFA.com. "There are lots of tactical sessions. We analyse every match down to the bone. The coach does not allow us to relax. He is very demanding, which is good for us."
"I am not a dictator but playing discipline is of the utmost importance for me," added Kubarev, formerly a midfielder with clubs in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Latvia. "My task is to organise our game." The coach, who by his own confession is "harsh and demanding", now intends to whip his side into shape for next season, with Cheptine aspiring to do better too. "I would give us a B for this season: yes, fourth place is not great but we did win the cup. Now we have to keep the bar high and set bigger targets."
That sounds like just the kind of talk Kubarev would welcome as he prepares to get his team back from their summer break on 10 June to start preparations for the UEFA Europa League. Offers have come in to take him back to Belarus, but for now he is eager to see how far he can push Zimbru. "We took a big step forward, and it would not have been right to drop everything at the halfway stage," he said, as he planned his next assault on the league. "I know this squad now – I can see what can be improved. So let's get to work."
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