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Greece awaits amateur gladiators

Greek side Eastern Attica AMA face three sides from the former Soviet Union in the UEFA Regions' Cup Group East preliminary mini-tournament from Tuesday.

Greek side Eastern Attica AMA face three sides from the former Soviet Union in the UEFA Regions' Cup Group East preliminary mini-tournament from Tuesday.

Greek hosts
The Greek amateurs will look to make it to the qualifying round of the competition, joining Bulgaria's South East Region AMA, Romania's Oltenia AMA and San Marino AMA in Group 7, with the winners of that mini-tournament travelling to next summer's eight-team final tournament.

'Great responsibility'
The hosts start their campaign with a match against Russian side Southern Federal District AMA in Keratea who have been formed around the FC Lokomotiv-KMV Mineralnye Vody side that won last season's Russian amateur title. "We were very excited about being invited to play in the competition," admitted coach Oleg Rydnyi. Team director Stanislav Lepski added: "We understand we have a great responsibility on us as we represent the whole of Russia."

Moldovan representatives
The other opening-day fixture will see Belarus's Belkard AMA take on Moldova's Chisinau AMA in Spata. The team from the Moldovan capital are based around players from the Chisinau suburbs of Milesti Mici and Bardar, most of who play for local amateur side FC Viişoara Milesti Mici and work on local farms or in the production of the famous local Milesti Mici wine. They will be led by 52-year-old Constantin Pisica, who has been in charge of every Moldovan UEFA Regions' Cup side since the tournament's inception in 1999. A giant in local football development, Milesti Mici has one of the best pitches in Moldova thanks to Pisica's efforts.

Professional move
His side will face a stern test against Belkard, who are based around an automobile parts factory team from Grodno. Having defeated rivals from Minsk to win the national amateur title, Belkard moved up to the professional ranks in Belarus as FC Dinamo-Belkard Grodno. That prompted most of the club's amateur players to seek new clubs, but Dinamo-Belkard have thrived and are top of Belarus's third division. However, since the UEFA Regions' Cup is an amateur tournament, coach Yuri Chekan has had to assemble a new squad to travel to Greece.

New-look side
A sports teacher and professor of physical education at Grodno Agrarian University, Chekan has gathered together a team of students, workers, engineers and sports coaches who will play in the attacking style he prefers. "Last year we made it to the final stage of the Belarus championship, but then we were just representing Grodno," said team director Stanislav Ulasevich. "Now the whole country is behind us. Of course, we would be glad to make it as far as possible in the tournament."

Torunament format
The four sides will play each other once over the course of the three matchdays in Greece with the side that finishes top of the section progressing to the next phase. In addition, the best runners-up from the two preliminary round mini-tournaments will also go into the qualifying phase.