Anorthosis Famagusta, CFR Cluj, BATE Borisov and Zenit St. Petersburg will all take their first, tentative steps in Europe's premier club competition this week. The Russian giants aside, they are little-known entities on the continental stage, but all will be buzzing at the prospect of raising their profile in the weeks to come.
Anorthosis Famagusta: team solidarity
Back in 1911, Famagusta was a small village with just 4,000 inhabitants, 35,000 less than call it home today. The only place of interest was the local cafe and the working population tended to pursue careers in either gardening or fishing, with a few more becoming shopkeepers. Into this limited world came Anorthosis, which before making its mark as a football club was an organisation involved in various different activities. Its initial goal was to educate the local children, with the association itself fulfilling teaching duties.
Anorthosis was founded on 30 January 1911, shortly after the British arrived on the island. The most notable pursuits in the early days were music and literature, with a reading club central to its purpose.
In 1934, Anorthosis took part in the inaugural Cypriot league season, and since then they have added title after title, collecting 12 championship crowns, ten Cypriot Cups and seven Super Cups. With their reputation growing, the club began being able to sign bigger names, such as Romanian striker Anghel Iordanescu and Brazilian marksman Mario Jardel.
Anorthosis flirted with qualifying for the Champions League in 2005, only losing out to Glasgow Rangers in the third round following a 4-1 aggregate loss. Undaunted, the Cypriots merely redoubled their efforts and, with Temuri Ketsbaia still at the helm, made their long-awaited breakthrough this season. Starting with a 3-0 aggregate win over FC Pyunik in the first qualifying round, they then beat Rapid Vienna 3-0 at home before escaping with a 3-1 defeat in the return leg. After that, they reached the promised land by following up a 3-0 home triumph against Olympiacos with a narrow 1-0 setback in Greece. Given the proven quality of their last two opponents, the Famagusta outfit have clearly earned the right to be where they are.
CFR Cluj: ups and downs
Few teams have experienced highs and lows as extreme as CFR Cluj. Since their establishment in 1907, the Romanian outfit have been far more familiar with lower-league tussles in Divizia B and Divizia C than they have with celebrating Liga 1 honours. In fact, the railway workers' club had to wait more than 100 years to rise to the top of the Romanian game.
At the end of the 1980s, financial problems plunged the team into obscurity, until salvation arrived in the early 1990s in the form of new backers SC Ecomax MG. Patient rebuilding work helped Cluj back into the elite in 2004 and, led by Romania's most capped player of all time, Dorinel Munteanu, they continued to grow, even making a splash in the 2005 UEFA Intertoto Cup, where they overcame Vetra, Athletic Bilbao, Saint-Etienne and Vilnius before losing to Lens.
Learning from that adventure, they resolved to avoid repeating past mistakes and that approach paid off when they collected their first ever league and cup double last term, opening the door to the Champions League group stage.
BATE Borisov: rapid ascent
The history of BATE Borisov resembles a fairytale, on the other hand. The first side to represent Belarus at this level, their route to the top has been fairly unique. Set up in 1973, BATE rose through the ranks in no time at all to become the club with the lowest ever UEFA coefficient to appear in the Champions League: 1.760.
Since taking their place in the top-tier Vysshaya Liga in 1998, BATE have been a model of consistency, finishing third in 2001, taking runners-up spot on four occasions and celebrating four league titles. Their first coronation came in 1999.
Installed in 2007, coach Viktor Goncharenko has added his own personal touch. Just 31 years old, the former defender has proved to be a tenacious leader who puts the accent on hard work. "You can think of me as a democrat with a touch of the dictator," he says. "Above all, I want to see discipline. It's one of the keys to success." It is a recipe that has worked wonders in the domestic arena, but will it prove enough in the Champions League?
Zenit St. Petersburg: little giants
Relatively unknown a year ago, the new giants of the Russian game have left an indelible mark on continental football. In the space of just a few months, Zenit have become a team to be feared by even the strongest outfits in Europe, adding the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup to their trophy cabinet.
Established in 1925, the club changed names twice before settling on their current appellation in 1940. A first title followed in 1944, in the shape of the Russian Cup, but the next three decades proved a barren period in terms of glory. Supporters had to wait until 1985 and 1999 to see their heroes collect their next two honours: a Russian Super Cup and a Russian Cup. In 2007, they finally laid their hands on a first ever Russian championship.