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Ukraine showdown for amateurs

Sides from four former Soviet Republics compete in Group 5 for a place in the UEFA Regions' Cup finals.

Opening games
Nova Kakhovka in Ukraine plays host to the mini-tournament which pits local favourites Kahovka-Krezo against Tbilisi Amateur of Georgia, Brest Amateur from Belarus and Moldova's Chisinau Amateur. The opening game at the Olympiysky stadium features Tbilisi and Brest before Kahovka-Krezo face Chisinau.

Host side
The hosts are led by 56-year-old coach Viktor Kovalenko as they aim to reach the finals of Europe's premier tournament for amateur players which will take place in June next year.

Moldovan contenders
Kahovka-Krezo's opening-day opponents, Chisinau, are trained by 50-year-old Constantin Pisica - a Regions' Cup veteran. He coached the Ialoveni Amateur side in the inaugural 1999 competition before moving on to Chisinau for the 2000/01 edition. His current team are based on the cream of the amateur talent at Moldovan second division clubs FC Viisoara, FC Victoria Chisinau and FC Intersport-Aroma Chisinau.

Veterinary trainees
Meanwhile, Georgian competitiors Tbilisi are based around FC Zooveti Tbilisi, a team made up largely of students from the veterinary academy in the Georgian capital. Their coach, Dr Elguja Gugushvili, formerly led the Turkmenistan national side and Georgia's Under-21s, but is now the dean of the academy.

Final exams
Gugushvili's preparations for the trip to Ukraine were hampered by having to invigilate final examinations. "We trained twice a day in the morning and in the evening, and in between I had to oversee exams," explained the coach, who has reduced his 30-man squad to 18, removing players with professional experience.

Top-class opponents
Nonetheless, Tbilisi have had a good chance to gel as a team, having played 17 games together, winning ten and losing three. These include matches against professional sides FC Spartaki Tbilisi, FC Dila Gori, FC Gorda 2000 Rustavi, FC Lokomotiv Tbilisi, FC WIT Georgia and FC Dinamo-2 Tbilisi.

Striking star
Tbilisi's star is 21-year-old FC Tskhumi Sokhumi striker Nikoloz Zedelashvili, and Gugushvili hopes the Regions' Cup will be the springboard for some of his players to take their football to a new level. "Five years ago, another Tbilisi side participated in the Regions' Cup," he explained.

Professional progress
"That team featured Georgi Gabudauri and Levan Gvazava," he added. "Both are professionals today - Gabudauri with Anorthosis Famagusta [FC] in Cyprus and Gvazava, after a few years at [CSF] Zimbru Chisinau joined [FC] Alania Vladikavkaz. I would be happy for any of my players to go far in senior football."

Young Brest
Like Tbilisi, Brest have youth on their side, consisting largely of players aged between 21 and 22. Their 34-year-old coach Andrei Zhalezny guided Brest in the qualifying stages of the 2002/03 Regions' Cup, but his team - showcasing 33-year-old defender Gennadi Horovets and 18-year-old midfielder Igor Bobko - want to do better in Ukraine.

Attacking aims
"We always aim for victory and love to attack," said Zhalezny, who coaches at the local football academy in Gantsevchi. "We may be amateurs but our attendances are over 2,000 for home games. For our fans' sake, we want to go as far as possible in the Regions' Cup."

Peak condition
Based around local outfit PMK-7, who have won three Belarus Amateur Cups, most of Brest's players are construction workers. They prepared for the Regions' Cup with a seven-day training camp and are sure to have arrived in Nova Kakhovka in peak condition.