The western European football season is still only a few months old, but titles and trophies have already been decided in the east of the continent. Familiar faces topped the pile in Estonia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, while the A-Lyga crown in Lithuania went to a club claiming the title for the fourth time in its history. By contrast, a new name will be etched on the Russian trophy. FIFA.com reviews the end-of-season prize list in the east of Europe.
Shock triumph for Rubin Kazan in Russia
Rubin Kazan, a true surprise package in the Russian Premier League, stunned experts and fans alike by sealing the title with three games to spare. Just a decade ago, the club from the capital of Tatarstan were plying their trade in the Russian third division, but coach Vitaly Kafanov’s side have risen inexorably to their new-found status as the country’s top team.
The first inkling of something big on the horizon came back in 2003, when Rubin Kazan finished third in the Russian top flight as a promoted club, duly qualifying for the UEFA Cup. A lull in the team’s spectacular progress followed, before Kafanov’s men recaptured peak form this season, staging an impressive and convincing march to the league crown as better-known names such as CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Mocow and Zenit St Petersburg stumbled.
Borisov rule the roost in Belarus
BATE Borisov made it a hat-trick of league triumphs in Belarus this term. The UEFA Champions League contenders rattled up a third domestic title on the bounce, the fifth in the club’s history. Viktor Goncharenko’s side remained undefeated until Matchday 29, by which time the trophy was already safely in the bag.
The latest overwhelming trophy success was founded on a rock-solid defence. Belarus national keeper Sergey Veremko and his rearguard conceded just 19 goals in 29 matches, far and away the meanest back line in the country. That is not to say BATE cannot attack: the forwards struck 52 league goals, the second-highest total after MTZ-RIPO Minsk.
As you were in Estonia
Levadia Tallinn also made it a league title hat-trick this term. Estonia’s leading club chalked up a 1-0 win away to Trans Narva last Saturday to wrap up their sixth championship success. The statistics bear testimony to Levadia’s dominance under Igor Prins, who succeeded Tarmo Ruutli at the helm at the start of the campaign. The champions boast 104 goals for and just 21 against in 35 matches to date.
However, there was to be no back-to-back league and cup double, as Prins’ side fell to league runners-up Flora Tallinn on penalties in the semi-finals.
Aktobe edge Kazak crown, Panevezys triumph in Lithuania
A week ago, Aktobe Lento’s 1-1 draw with Energetik-2 proved enough to retain the Super League title in Kazakhstan. Aktobe certainly deserved the trophy on the back of the best defence (18 goals against) and most potent attack (61 scored) in the league, although cup winners and runners-up Tobol Kostanei pushed the champions all the way and indeed finished level on points at the top.
By contrast, the Lithuanian title changed hands this term when Ekranas Panevezys finally wrapped up the championship last Sunday with a 5-1 home win over Zalgiris Vilnius, consigning serial champions and cup winners FBK Kaunas to second place this season. Northern outfit Ekranas Panevezys, founded in 1963, thus add the 2008 A-Lyga honours to previous triumphs in 1985, 1993 and 2005.
Elsewhere, the Armenian title race goes down to the wire this weekend when leaders Pyunik Erevan (59 points) cross swords with pursuers Ararat Erevan (56).