Moldovan champions FC Sheriff may not have battled through to the UEFA Europa League knockout phase, but the Tiraspol side boast the best defensive record in any European league, eclipsing the likes of FC Porto and FC Shakhtar Donetsk.
Past UEFA.com surveys have focused on the highest-scoring sides in Europe and the sides who made unbeaten starts to the 2010/11 season, but with defensive rigour every bit as important as attacking excellence in forming a great side, we present a guide to Europe's most impregnable defences.
1. FC Sheriff − seven goals conceded in 24 matches (0.29 goals per game)
Champions of Moldova for the last ten seasons, Sheriff are in the unusual position of being second in the table at the moment, trailing FC Dacia Chisinau. However, that is a situation that their defence can hardly be blamed for. The meanest back line on the continent is marshalled by the club's 39-year-old captain, Georgian Vazha Tarkhnishvili, and featuring Bulgarian goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov, who told UEFA.com: "We pay a lot of attention to how we defend in training. Also, Vazha is very important for the team because the young players feel confident when he is on the pitch."
2. FK Vojvodina − five goals in 15 matches (0.33)
Third behind Belgrade powerhouses FK Partizan and FK Crvena zvezda in the Serbian league, the Novi Sad side did not concede until their fifth game this season, but Zoran Milinković's team have also impressed at the other end. Their 23 goals in 15 matches is second only to league leaders Partizan, whose 39-match unbeaten Super League run they ended with a 2-0 win in October. Captain and goalkeeper Željko Brkić told UEFA.com: "Our defensive record is a result of our team play. We have brilliant communication, not just during games, and we build on that during training and while preparing for matches. Zoran Milinković deserves credit for that."
3. Portugal, FC Porto − seven goals in 21 matches (0.33)
Rolando and Nicolás Otamendi are earning glowing reports at the heart of the runaway Portuguese league leaders' back line, with the former's physical presence complementing the pace, agility and sound positional sense of Otamendi, a scorer of four Liga goals this term. Arguably, their greatest defensive strength lies in midfield, where João Moutinho, Fernando Belluschi and Fernando are key players in recovering possession and springing lethal counterattacks.
4. Ukraine, FC Shakhtar Donetsk − seven goals in 19 games (0.37)
Attack is the best form of defence − that is the modus operandi of the Ukrainian champions − but the Pitmen's Brazilian stars have also been drilled not to neglect their defensive duties. At the back, Shakhtar have two full-backs with vast international experience – Darijo Srna and Răzvan Raţ – who flank the rugged Dmytro Chygrynskiy and burgeoning talent Yaroslav Rakitskiy. Those players, plus midfielders Tomáš Hübschman and Olexiy Gai, have been together for a considerable period and consequently form a solid understanding with goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov, Ukraine's 2010 Player of the Year.
5. Andorra, UE Sant Julià − seven goals in 18 games (0.39)
Sant Julià's push for a second Premier Division crown in three seasons has been underpinned by a defence which between 7 November and 30 January conceded just once in eight outings. FC Santa Coloma continue to lead the eight team Andorran table, but Sant Julià closed the gap to just two points with a 2-0 win against their title rivals on Sunday.
Incidentally, a survey of the best European defensive records of all time found that the Fenerbahçe SK's Turkish title-winning side of 1969/70 boasted the continent's most miserly rearguard; in 30 games that season, the team coached by Romanian Traian Ionescu conceded just six goals (and average of 0.2 per match). Strangely, the fact that the same side scored just 31 goals in that campaign meant that they were regarded as something of a disappointment.
Europe's all-time best defensive records
Fenerbahçe SK, 1969/70 − six goals conceded in 30 matches (0.20)
Trabzonspor, 1978/79 − seven in 30 (0.23)
FC Porto, 1979/80 − nine in 30 (0.30)
FC Porto, 1983/84 − nine in 30 (0.30)
FC Dynamo Kyiv, 1967 − 11 in 36 (0.306)
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