Despite coming off the back of their "worst performance of the season", FC BATE Borisov are full of belief as they take a 1-0 lead into the home leg of their third qualifying round tie against PFC Levski Sofia. Coach Viktor Goncharenko insists that if his players remain focused they can "make our dream come true".
Belarussian champions, BATE scarcely registered on the European football map until a couple of weeks ago; now people are beginning to sit up and take note. The minnows accounted for RSC Anderlecht in the second qualifying round, before Vladimir Rzhevskiy's strike in Sofia a fortnight ago put them within 90 minutes of a lucrative UEFA Champions League place. "We believe we can do it," said coach Goncharenko. "People were queuing for tickets the day before they went on sale, so the stadium will be packed and our fans will get right behind us."
Optimism is tempered by realism, however. BATE had to come from two goals down to draw at mid-table FC Granit Mikashevichi on Friday, and were also second best for much of the first leg against Bulgarian titleholders Levski. It needed a stunning display from Sergei Veremko to keep them in contention but the goalkeeper is suspended for the return, meaning a chance for 19-year-old Aliaksandr Hutar. "'Sasha' is very level-headed and will do well," said Goncharenko, who could again be without striker Gennadi Bliznyuk because of a rib injury. "We're not up in the clouds though. It's hard to be ecstatic after spending 90 minutes in Sofia defending. Only complete concentration will make our dream come true."
Levski and their latest coach Emil Velev have ambitions of their own. Velev's predecessor, Velislav Vutsov, quit soon after the first-leg defeat but the new man introduced himself in style as his side overwhelmed PFC Botev Plovdiv 6-0 in his first league game. The 46-year-old is optimistic heading into the match in Borisov. "The players are looking forward to the return leg," he said. "We were all disappointed after the first game but the boys are hungry for victory – you can see it in their eyes. We want to defend our club's pride and will do everything to win."
Like BATE, Levski are missing their first-choice keeper as Georgi Petkov is recovering from a hernia operation so new Slovakian recruit Daniel Kiss will deputise. Velev hopes the focus will be at the other end, however, and is likely to start with a three-pronged forward line. "We have to attack as we need to score goals, even if we must be very careful at the back," said Velev, whose team were given the weekend off. "We suppose BATE will play defensively and we must be ready."
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