Russian club Rubin Kazan marched to a maiden Premier Liga title last year and have continued their impressive winning form into the new season.
With 23 games played, the club founded in 1958 lead the Russian top flight by four points from Spartak Moscow, and appear poised to seal back-to-back domestic triumphs. The main success factor for coach Kurban Berdyyev and his team is ruthless finishing, as Rubin have no fewer than 48 goals in the plus column so far this term.
Odd couple among the goals
More than half the total has come from Alejandro Dominguez and Aleksandr Bukharov, whose joint contribution amounts to a remarkable 27 goals. Argentine hitman Dominguez started out in the pro game with second tier Atletico Quilmes, before spending three seasons with Buenos Aires giants River Plate. However, the real breakthrough came in 2004 when he switched from his home country to his present club in Russia.
The attacking midfielder, slight of frame and just 1.73m, scored 21 goals in his first three seasons with Rubin Kazan. The 28-year-old, nicknamed El Chori by his adoring fans, then moved to Zenit St. Petersburg and collected international honours for the first time in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup. However, after falling out with former Zenit boss Dick Advocaat, Dominguez opted to rejoin his former club in March 2009, promptly finding the net 14 times this season.
Bukharov, the big target man
Bukharov is just a goal shy of Dominguez at the moment. Standing 1.91m tall, the burly target man is the exact opposite of the silkily skilled Dominguez. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the partnership between the little-and-large pair is harmonious and productive.
The man with the number 11 on his back has been with Rubin Kazan for some five years, improving with every passing season. After working his way up from the reserves, the 24-year-old is now one of the first names on the team-sheet week after week.
However, for all Dominguez, Bukharov and company's current domestic dominance, their first taste of the UEFA Champions League was something of a letdown. Their maiden outing in the rarefied air of Europe's elite club competition ended in a 3-1 reverse away to Group F opponents Dinamo Kiyv. Normally there would be no shame in an away defeat to the leading Ukrainian club, but the problem is the calibre of Rubin's remaining group opponents.
The men from Kazan entertain Inter Milan, Italian champions for the last four years, at 18:30 CET on Tuesday evening. On 20 October, the Russian champions travel to face mighty Barcelona, the best team in Europe last season. It would unquestionably rate as a major shock if Rubin were to pip one of these giants of the continental game to a place in the knockout stages.
A chance and a reunion
However, the imminent meeting with Inter is probably the Russians' best chance of pulling off an upset. A win in front of their home crowd would finally mark the underdogs' arrival on the international scene, as previous incursions into Europe have ended in failure. In 2004-05, Rubin were knocked out in qualifying for the UEFA Cup proper, and failed to survive the first round the following year.
Their first home appearance in the Champions League also marks a reunion for two former team-mates. Midfielder Dominguez and Inter's Esteban Cambiasso were in the 2002 Clausura-winning River Plate side.
Cambiasso and his men are clear favourites for the tie, but if Dominguez and Bukharov succeed in reproducing their domestic league form, and with their boisterous supporters behind them, Rubin could yet be good for a surprise.