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After a remarkable opening to their Group F campaign, yielding six points from two games, FC BATE Borisov are at last making a stir in the UEFA Champions League.
Becoming the first team from Belarus to qualify for the competition in 2008, Viktor Goncharenko's side endured two tough campaigns prior to this season's promising start – failing to win a group match in 2008/09 and 2011/12. However, those harsh lessons have been learned, and at the third attempt the Belarusian champions have seen off LOSC Lille and, in one of the competition's biggest shocks, inflicted a 3-1 defeat on last term's beaten finalists FC Bayern München.
Nobody could have envisioned the club being in this position after disbanding in 1981 and only being revived in 1996. However, six straight domestic titles have set the platform for a sustained European assault from BATE, who midfielder Aleksandr Hleb explains were training in local parks in the not-too-distant past. "In the last ten years the club have made big steps forward," said the man who lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy with FC Barcelona in 2009. "We beat the second-best football club in the world, as I think there's only Barcelona stronger than Bayern at the moment. It makes history."
A former defender with the Borisov outfit, coach Goncharenko underlines that the key to the upturn in fortunes is what has gone on behind the scenes. "It is the inner side of things, the unity of the team, healthy relations between people ... everything matters. We are in a constant state of progress, whether that's our training base, stadium, squad, the development inside the team. It is the constant hunger from the coaching staff for knowledge, plus the eagerness of the players."
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