Belarus head into their final two UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifiers knowing that a further four points will, at the very least, secure them a place in the play-offs for the first time.
It is a position the side are unaccustomed to being in – never before have they been so close to qualifying for the finals of a FIFA Women's World Cup or a EURO – as they prepare for home matches against Ukraine, on Saturday, and Slovakia four days later.
Tatiana Volkova's team are fourth in Group 5, level on points with both of their forthcoming opponents and six behind section leaders Finland, who will book their ticket to next summer's finals by avoiding defeat in Estonia at the weekend. Victory against Ukraine in Mogilev will ensure Belarus require just a draw versus Slovakia, who have played a match more, to finish second.
The women's game in Belarus is enjoying something of a boom. In 2009 the country hosted the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, while in four years the U17 equivalent will also be staged in the former Soviet republic.
A positive end to the qualifying campaign would add to the air of optimism, although Volkova is doing her best to quell any growing expectation. Speaking after recent friendly wins against Latvia, she said: "During those games the players didn't think enough. They forgot what we practised in training and our game became chaotic."
The matches nonetheless allowed Volkova, whose side are the only one to have taken points from Finland in qualifying, to experiment, even if she is likely to keep faith with those who have got Belarus into such a promising position. "I tried to test some players from the Belarusian league who might help the team reach the play-offs," Volkova continued.
"On the other hand, I can't even imagine what form those playing in Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine will be in. Either way, their level is higher compared to the home-based players."
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