BATE Borislov remain the team to beat in Belarus
Having reduced the number of teams in the top flight to 12 this season in a bid to raise the quality of the domestic game, there is likely to be one thing that stays exactly the same: the destination of the title.
Having started the new season by beating Belarusian Cup holders Naftan in the Super Cup, reigning champions BATE already look stronger than ever as they go in search of their fifth successive league crown.
With key players such as defender Sergei Sosnovski, veteran midfielder Dmitri Likhtarovich and powerful forward Vitali Rodionov still at the club, the only significant departure during the close season was Belarus midfielder Sergey Krivets, who joined Lech Poznan of Poland. He has been replaced by a Brazilian, Renan Bressan, who joins from relegated Gomel, while coach Viktor Goncharenko has also reinforced his squad by signing midfielder Edgar Olekhnovich from Dinamo Brest and experienced forward Artem Kontsevoy from Russian Premier League outfit Spartak Nalchik.
Dinamo Minsk, who were once the strongest club in the country, will again be the main title challengers after finishing runners-up four times in the past five seasons. Instability has always been their biggest problem, with notorious president Yuri Chizh hiring and firing 20 coaches during his 10 years reign. Sergei Gurenko, who started last season as a player and ended it as head coach, has surprisingly retained his post and was appointed on a permanent basis shortly after the end of last term. If the former Roma, Real Zaragoza, Parma and Lokomotiv Moscow defender has learned from past mentors such as Fabio Capello and Arrigo Sacchi, and if he can withstand the pressure of matching BATE and pleasing his president, his side may be in with a chance. They have kept all their top names and added experienced MTZ-RIPO goalkeeper Alyaksandr Sulima, and midfielder Anton Matveenko and forward Alyaksandr Sazankov from Dnepr. They also recruited Belarus Under-19 forward Tienchen Vogba, who is of Cameroonian origin and considered the most promising attacker in the country.
League champions in 2005, Shakhtyor have hired 67-year-old former Soviet Union coach Eduard Malofeyev and he has been tasked with putting pressure on the big two and finishing at least in the third place that they have occupied for four of the previous eight seasons. The Miners boosted their chances by signing Lithuania goalkeeper Eduardas Kurskis and forward Dmitri Komarovski from Naftan, and defender Mikalay Asipovich from MTZ-RIPO.
Dnepr will try to retain the third place they gained last season despite losing Matveenko and Sazankov to Dinamo Minsk. Their worthy replacements are Maksim Karpovich from Naftan and Vladimir Yurchenko from Russian Premier League club Saturn.
FC Minsk will be counting on the experience of new defender Andrey Dzivakow from Vitebsk and Dzmitry Klimovich from Torpedo Zhodino. They also recruited midfielder Ihor Voronkov from Torpedo Zhodino, defensive midfielder Yakov Zalevskiy from Ukrainian club Dniester Ovidiopol and forward Nikolai Zenko from Belshyna. With these new faces, the municipal club from the capital could be an important player in the battle for the places in the upper part of the table.
Cup holders Naftan suffered a large exodus of experienced players, with the departures of Ihar Truhaw, Vital Valadzyankow, Dzmitry Hintaw, Karpovich and Kurskis leaving deep holes in every department which will have to be filled by the young graduates from the club academy.
Former BATE and Belarus coach Yuri Puntus was recruited by Dinamo Brest last year and is in the process of building a strong side that should be able to fight for a Europa League spot. To break the tradition of regular mid-table mediocrity, he lured big group of mature players that included defender Aleksey Pankovets of FC Minsk and Georgian midfielder Zaza Chelidze of Olimpi Rustavi. In attack he has added Mikalay Yanush from relegated Granit.
Aleksandr Brazevich has replaced Oleg Kubarev as coach of Torpedo Zhodino and the newcomer has been busy in the transfer market bringing in defenders Hintaw from Naftan, Yawhen Branavitski from FC Minsk and forward Pavel Byahanski from Shakhtyor. Having a modest annual budget of £1.1million, and with departure of influential dressing-room leader Ihor Voronkov, Torpedo will be hoping to avoid relegation.
Also battling for survival will be Vitebsk after the Football Federation of Belarus imposed a transfer ban on the club when they were unable to pay financial compensations to sacked coach Aliaksandr Khatskevich. The team definitely looks weaker after the departures of defender Andrey Dzivakow, Nigerian holding midfielder Simon Ogar and forward Uladzimir Shakaw.
MTZ-RIPO have been renamed FC Partizan Minsk this season and they could find themselves in big trouble after losing their vastly experienced goalkeeper Sulima to Dynamo Minsk. Meanwhile, newly promoted Belshyna, who have completely changed their squad by signing 16 new players, and Neman will have to work unbelievably hard just to stay in the top flight.
April 2, 2010
July 4, 2010 to July 25, 2010
November 20, 2010