This year, Russian women's football has new queens after three seasons of Zvezda-2005 domination were ended in style by FC Rossiyanka – and now their sights are set on Europe.
Rossiyanka, founded in 1990 and taking their current name 14 years later, were champions in 2005 and 2006 only to be usurped by a Zvezda side who, in the course of taking a hat-trick of titles, also reached the UEFA Women's Cup final in 2008/09. But Rossiyanka have been resurgent in 2010, securing the title with five games to spare and beating Zvezda in all four league encounters.
On top of that, they have a Russian Cup final against FC Energy Voronezh to look forward to on 31 October. Having scored 18 goals in their three UEFA Women's Champions League qualifying round wins in August, they have a more pressing assignment across the border in Ukraine on Wednesday with the first leg of their round of 32 tie with Legend Chernigov.
According to coach Tatiana Egorova, a former captain who succeeded Andrei Mitin at the helm in February, this year's success was far from straightforward. "It was not an easy start for us," said Egorova. "Three players joined Energy [Voronezh] on more alluring contracts and we lost some players to knee injuries. But we adjusted our training routines, bonded, created a true group based on mutual understanding and had a strong desire to win our title back. We went through the whole league season with this drive."
Although some players departed, the arrivals of Tatiana Ananyeva, Anna Cholovyaga and South Africa midfielder Nompumelelo Nyandeni helped Rossiyanka eclipse Zvezda. "We started to regain our position at the end of last season, particularly when we beat Zvezda in the cup final," Egorova said. "I do not want to judge what happened with Zvezda this year. Maybe they failed to find a common language with their foreign coach [Shek Borkowski]. What is more, many players got injured while captain Nataliya Zinchenko retired from professional football."
However, having seen off the challenge of Zvezda, Rossiyanka now have another difficult task in the shape of 2009 Ukrainian double winners Legend. "They have strong team with internationals," said Egorova. "Indeed Ukraine are always famous for their fighting spirit. We are preparing for this game very carefully and have got footage of Legend's matches. Everything is going according to plan."
Even if Legend are knocked out, it gets no easier. "If we beat Legend, we could face last year's finalists Olympique Lyonnais in the round of 16. The other potential opponents AZ Alkmaar are not a surprise either. Speaking to our board we never hide our desire to reach the final and, what is more, to win the competition. But we will set our goals one game at a time."
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