With Real Madrid CF having qualified for the knockout rounds in all their previous 12 UEFA Champions League campaigns, the task could hardly be tougher for Belarussian newcomers FC BATE Borisov.
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Real Madrid CF begin their 13th campaign in the UEFA Champions League hoping that it will prove a lucky one. They will reflect that there could be tougher first hurdles than a visit from Group H outsiders FC BATE Borisov, who are the first representatives from Belarus to compete in the group stage of the competition.
• One possible source of encouragement for the underdogs lies in the fact that the Spanish champions often make a poor start to the tournament. Last season, they beat Werder Bremen 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu but their three previous Matchday 1 fixtures all ended in defeat, two by 3-0 scorelines and the other by 2-0.
• Nevertheless, those poor starts have not hindered Madrid's efforts to qualify for the knockout phase. They have not failed to progress through the initial stage in any of their 12 campaigns to date and have topped their group on no less than seven occasions.
• Last season, Bernd Schuster's team won all three home games in the section, scoring nine goals in the process, but were then second best at the Bernabéu against AS Roma in the first knockout round. That allowed the Italian team to book a quarter-final place at their expense. It was the third successive year that the club – who have lifted the UEFA European Champion Clubs' Cup a record nine times – made their exit in the first knockout round.
• Roma's 2-1 victory was only the second defeat Los Merengues had suffered in 26 UEFA Champions League fixtures at their own stronghold. Their previous reverse was a 1-0 loss against Arsenal FC in the first knockout round in February 2006. The sequence has yielded 19 wins and five draws.
• The Madrid club have never before faced opposition from Belarus in a competitive fixture, while BATE have met a Spanish team on just one previous occasion. That came in last season's UEFA Cup first round when they took on Villarreal CF, losing the away game 4-1 and going down 2-0 at home. In Spain, Maksim Zhavnerchik scored the visitors' consolation eight minutes after coming on as a substitute and with his team already 4-0 behind.
• To make history and enable Belarus to take their place at Europe's top table for the first time, BATE had to work through all three qualifying rounds. They started against Valur Reykjavík, winning the home leg 2-0 with Gennadi Bliznyuk twice on the scoresheet in the second half and 1-0 away, Igor Stasevich scoring in the first minute.
• Viktor Goncharenko's team really began to dream of the possible prize ahead when they recorded a 2-1 win in Brussels against RSC Anderlecht. The visitors fell behind to Guillaume Gillet's goal just past the hour but immediately struck back, Sergei Kryvets scoring from the spot after Pavel Nekhaychik had been brought down. It was Nekhaychik who then made the difference two minutes from time, scoring the winner from 20 metres.
• In the return BATE took the lead with 18 minutes gone as Bliznyuk turned in Vitali Rodionov's low cross. Anderlecht equalised from the spot through Lucas Biglia after Sergei Sosnovski's clumsy challenge on Roland Juhász but Rodionov put BATE 2-1 ahead in the 83rd minute, rounding off good work from Kryvets and Nekhaychik. Jan Polák struck a second equaliser but it was all to no avail as BATE celebrated a 4-3 aggregate win.
• In the third qualifying round, the Belarussian champions put themselves within touching distance of the group stage with a second-half goal from Vladimir Rzhevski earning a famous victory away against PFC Levski Sofia. In the return match, BATE were forced to play with ten men for 47 minutes following the dismissal of Bliznyuk. They were able to keep the scores locked at 1-1, however, following Sosnovski's 14th-minute opener and Vladimir Gadjev's equaliser seven minutes before half-time.
• The other game in the group sees fellow debutants FC Zenit St. Petersburg travelling to face Juventus.