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Asked why he was so excited about his FC BATE Borisov side taking on FC Barcelona in UEFA Champions League Group H, midfielder Filipp Rudik was only half-joking when he replied: "Because I have never met creatures from outer space before."
The European champions' brand of football has been so dazzling in recent seasons that Josep Guardiola's men might as well have come from another planet. Their arrival in Belarus, moreover, has been greeted with the level of awed excitement one might expect from a confirmed alien landing. The 39,600 tickets on sale for Wednesday's match in Minsk were sold out with five days to spare, with Rudik himself having forked out for a few.
"It is what I really needed," said the 24-year-old, a winter signing from FC Naftan Novopolotsk. "I wanted to play against Barcelona and luck was on my side in the draw.
Now my old team-mates from Novopolotsk all owe me; I still haven't got any money from them, but that's OK because I have their tickets and they won't get into the ground without me."
Playing against a team from a parallel footballing universe would daunt any side, yet if Belarusian international Rudik is terrified, he is using humour to deflect the worst of it. "We have already discussed our tactics," he joked. "We'll kick the ball out of play and hope for the best. Let's see if we can get the ball into their half first." He added: "I promise it will be an interesting match. I won't say we will definitely win, but maybe Barça will underestimate us. We'll see what we're capable of against such great opponents. It's a huge experience for us and we'll give it all we have got."
The magnitude of their Dinamo Stadion task might explain why BATE failed to sparkle in their Premier League fixture on Friday, the leaders drawing 1-1 at FC Belshina Bobruisk. "We cannot be too down," said the St Petersburg-born Rudik. "We just started to conserve energy for the Barcelona game a bit early."
BATE will be sure to be at peak fitness for the Blaugrana, although talk in the dressing room suggests some players may be saving an extra ounce of energy for the race to swap shirts with Lionel Messi. "I haven't decided who I want to swap with, but at least half of our lads want his shirt," said Rudik. "It will be something new for me. I have never met big footballing stars. Naftan played [KAA] Gent in summer 2009 but maybe our shirts were so horrible that the Belgian players refused to swap with us."
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