Their president's wife is a Russian pop star, but glitz and glamour have nothing to do with how Milsami Orhei knocked out Ludogorets; UEFA.com gets to grips with the Moldovan champions.
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Not long after the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round draw, I received a text message from Ludogorets goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov – who previously played in Moldova for Sheriff. "Evgeni, how are Milsami at the moment?" he asked. "They are a very interesting team who play attractive football," I replied. The Bulgarian title holders saw that at close hand in the second qualifying round, Milsami earning a 1-0 away win before prevailing 2-1 at home tonight to earn a tie with Skënderbeu or Crusaders.
In summer 2010, 23-year-old businessman Ilan Shor took command at Viitorul Orhei, changing their name to Milsami – the new prefix a composite of the initials of the club's main investors. The Eagles came third in the First Division in their first season as Milsami to secure a UEFA competition debut, then won their first trophy, the Moldovan Cup, in 2012.
They battled through two rounds of the UEFA Europa League in 2013/14 before falling short against Saint-Étienne. Last season, though, they eclipsed all previous achievements, outdoing local powerhouses Sheriff and Dacia Chisinau to take their first league title.
Flamboyant, if occasionally ill-disciplined, Milsami's energetic style had led to inconsistent results in the past – they finished only sixth in Moldova in 2013/14 under former Russia coach Georgi Yartsev. However, his Moldovan successor Iurie Osipenco – a one-time Milsami player – resolved many of their problems last term.
Milsami tightened up under the 41-year-old, winning the championship on head-to-head record after finishing level on points with Dacia and Sheriff. "We believed we could do it," Osipenco said. "We deserved it on the pitch, we became champions even though many doubted us."
Milsami's is very much a team effort, with local talent predominating – just four of their starting lineup against Ludogorets on 14 July were foreigners, with Romanian forward and captain Romeo Surdu, 31, also showing the value of experience gained with Steaua Bucureşti in the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League group stage. Midfielder Alexandru Antoniuc, the match winner in Bulgaria, is another classy player, looking to thrive following an unsuccessful spell with Russia's Rubin Kazan.
However, president Ilan Shor may be as significant as any of his players. Now 28, he is married to Russian pop singer Jasmin and was recently elected mayor of Orhei – a town 40km from Moldova's capital Chisinau. "For me, Moldovan football is a great joy," he said. "If it came to choosing between watching a game in Barcelona or staying at home to see Milsami, I would take the second option."
How do they play?
Milsami's preferred formation is 4-5-1, with impressive 20-year-old Radu Mîţu in goal, guarded by two imposing foreign central defenders – Nigerian Ovye Shedrack and Moroccan Adil Rhaili. Both capable of shooting from distance, Andrei Cojocari and Croatian Karlo Belak oversee the defensive midfield beat, with Artur Patraş, Gheorghe Andronic and Antoniuc given more creative roles. Surdu is the lone striker, though Cristian Bud can come off the bench to pose an aerial threat.
However, goals can come from anywhere. Another ace up Milsami's sleeve is their set-piece prowess, and it was no surprise that their 41st-minute winner in Bulgaria hailed from a corner. It was a victory no one in Moldova had predicted, yet Osipenco's men continue to prove that – with drive and discipline – no result is entirely impossible.