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UEFA Champions League group stage participants in 2008/09, FC BATE Borisov have broken new ground after their second successive season in the UEFA Europa League group phase.
BATE's round of 32 tie against French side Paris Saint-Germain FC, with the first leg at their European home in Minsk on 17 February, will be their first outing in the spring phase of any UEFA club competition. For coach Viktor Goncharenko it is reason for the whole of Belarus to be proud.
"[When we get good results]
we're constantly torn by doubts as to whether it was luck or that the opponents weren't strong enough: anything but admit how good we are," said the coach, who led BATE to a fifth successive Belarusian title in 2010. "I believe we've made a big step forward. Abroad, it seems we're being judged on a more objective basis, people are saying we're a good team."
Not without reason. The 2010/11 UEFA Europa League group stage saw BATE qualify from a section that included seasoned European campaigners FC Dynamo Kyiv and AZ Alkmaar, as well as Moldovan champions FC Sheriff. Now they are set for new adventures in the knockout phase.
"For the team, it means new experiences and emotions," Goncharenko told UEFA.com. "For supporters, it means new countries and the unfamiliar. We always get something new out of this. And for the country it's no different.
When the team get good results the whole of Belarus is cheering for us."
BATE's sights are fixed significantly higher than when Goncharenko signed for the Borisov-based club as a player. Forced to retire at 25 due to a knee injury, he joined the coaching department, working his way up to take charge of the senior side from 2007. He was still just 31 when he guided the team into the UEFA Champions League group stage two seasons ago.
"I remember when I joined the club, back then I was still young and not well-known," he said. "I was a young player and we grew together and delivered results together, in Belarus as well as internationally."
Now the youngest coach to manage in each of UEFA's top club competitions, Goncharenko is young enough to have played alongside a number of his team-mates, including captain Dmitri Likhtarovich. "We have a good relationship," the 32-year-old midfielder told UEFA.com. "There is no overfamiliarity. I understand he's the coach and I have a lot of respect for his achievements."
A BATE player since 2002, Likhtarovich said he has "strong feelings about the club", and attributed their success to "good team spirit". He continued: "The coach always sets high goals and standards." Which rise with every continental outing. "We learn with every game," said Goncharenko. "Every match in the Europa League or Champions League is another textbook on how you should play, and it's very useful."
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