European Under-21 Championship fact file - Belarus
Belarus will be making their third appearance at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals and will begin their Group A campaign in the opening game of the tournament against Iceland in Aarhus. They then take on hosts Denmark before the final group game with Switzerland as they attempt to reach the knockout stages for the first time.
Despite his team being the tournament´s rank outsiders, Coach Georgi Kondratyev says he has picked players “who were in difficult situations with me and I trust won´t let me down” and is targeting a semi-final spot. A 1-1 friendly draw away to favourites Spain in March has also fostered belief his players are not just there to make up the numbers, particularly since his 23-man squad contains four full internationals with plenty of experience - Mikhail Sivakov, Andrei Voronkov, Denis Polyakov and Yegor Filipenko.
In the qualifiers Belarus were drawn in Group 10 alongside Scotland, Austria, Albania and Azerbaijan in what was probably one of the weaker groups. They started with victories over Austria and Azerbaijan and, despite a 1-0 defeat to the Scottish, managed to record three wins and two draws from their remaining fixtures to finish second to Scotland and qualify for the play-offs as one of the best four runners-up. Drawn against five-times champions Italy, the tie looked all but over after the Belarusian lost the away leg 2-0. However, they pulled off an almighty shock at their Gorodskoy Stadion in the return with a 3-0 victory, defender Oreg Veretilo´s goal six minutes into extra-time s securing progress to this summer´s showcase.
Kondratyev´s charges know that playing as a team is where their true strength lies, with six of the squad from reigning champions BATE Borisov, and they are a close-knit group with tremendous team spirit. Goals also tend to come from anywhere - in qualifying four players each notched three goals and two others scored two. The team draws inspiration from its most experienced player, captain Mikhail Sivakov, who has featured in Champions League games against the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus and will not be overawed in Denmark. Currently on loan with Polish team Wisla Krakow, the 23-year-old Cagliari midfielder will be making his second finals appearance having been a member of the squad in Sweden in 2009.
Belarus possess players such as winger Pavel Nekhaychik and diminutive striker Vladimir Yurchenko who have the skill and pace to trouble any team, although if they do have a failing it is that they have a propensity to concede too many sloppy goals through lack of concentration. Nonetheless, where they do score plus points is in their Coach´s meticulous preparation and attention to detail, and Kondratyev says he knows virtually everything about each of their opponents.
While nobody outside of Belarus seriously thinks they can go on to win the tournament, qualification from the group and with it a ticket to London for the 2012 Olympic Games will be seen as an unbridled success.
Coach - Georgi Kondratyev : The 51-year-old former Russian international striker has been in charge at Under-21 level for three years since stepping up from assistant. Started his coaching career in 1998 with his best achievement at club level coming in 2008 when he guided Smorgon to eighth place in the Belarus league.
One to watch - Vladimir Yurchenko : The Shakhtsyor Salihorsk striker netted twice in the decisive 3-0 play-off win over Italy and was also in the squad that took part in the 2009 championships in Sweden. Earned a first call-up to the senior team in November, 2010 but was forced to withdraw through injury.
Possible XI :
Filipenko- Politevich - Veritilo -Polyakov
Sivakov - Nekhaychik - Dragun - Rekish