Belarus have yet to appear at the finals of a major tournament since gaining independence after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, so qualifying for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament 2012 is without question the greatest success in the nation’s footballing history. However, a berth in London is the reward for the game’s consistent and rapid development in the landlocked nation of 9.5 million inhabitants.
"In my opinion, the best evidence of our progress is the trend towards modern football throughout the nation. What that means in practice is that we've begun implementing a relatively uniform philosophy, from the junior national teams, via the top clubs, right through to the senior Belarus side. We're following a very specific path, and it's been enthusiastically adopted by our host of young coaches," German supremo Bernd Stange exclusively told FIFA.com last summer, when he was still Belarus head coach.
Stange, whose contract expired in December 2011, passed the reins to Georgi Kondratiev. The new boss has a dual role, both as coach of the senior national team, and as the man in charge of the Olympic side. Kondratiev was the coach who led Belarus to a surprise third place at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in 2011, which sealed the nation’s spot in London. The team spearheaded by Andrei Voronkov is now hoping to upset one or two of the more established names at the tournament.
Belarus have every reason to look to the future with great optimism. The new generation undoubtedly has the potential to spring surprise after surprise on the global and continental stage. The youthful promise is already seeping through into the senior national team, as evidenced by the creditable UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying record of three wins, four draws and three defeats. "My players have yet to unlock their full potential," Kondratiev recently told uefa.com. "Basically, I remain convinced Belarus should have qualified for EURO 2012. My job is to push and inspire my players."
Facts and figures
In the group stage at the UEFA European U-21 Championship 2011, Belarus squeezed into the semi-finals thanks to a victory over Iceland, and a better goal difference in the head-to-head record between the three teams tied on points for second place. The eastern Europeans then lost a dramatic last-four clash to eventual tournament winners Spain in extra time, but a late Egor Filipenko volley sealed victory over Czech Republic in the third-place play-off, and with it a ticket to London.
The numbers game
2 – Two wins in five matches were enough for ultra-efficient Belarus to claim the precious third spot at the European U-21 Championship 2011.