Беларусь / Belarus
- Capital: Minsk / Мінск/Менск / Минск
- Official Languages: Belarusian, Russian
- Recognised Minority Languages: Polish, Ukrainian, Yiddish
- Nicknames: Белыя крылы / Bielyia kryly (The White Wings)
- Association: Беларуская Федэрацыя Футбола / Biełaruskaja Fiederacyja Futboła (BFF)
- FIFA Code: BLR
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 36th (February 2011)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 37th (December 2011)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 142nd (March 1994)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 56th (December 2018, December 2020)
- Most Capped Player: Alyaksandr Kulchy – 102 caps
- Top Scorer: Maksim Romaschenko – 20 goals
The Republic of Belarus is situated in northeastern Europe, sandwiched between Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and the Baltic countries of Lithuania and Latvia. It was once one of the western republics of the Soviet Union the country achieved independence in 1991 once the USSR had collapsed. The new country of Belarus obtained FIFA membership in 1992 and UEFA membership in the following year, however in their near twenty years of international football, they are yet to qualify for a major tournament. The White Wings came close to qualifying for a 2002 World Cup qualification playoff spot but sadly just missed out in the final match (losing 1-0 to Wales) allowing their southern neighbours Ukraine to confirm their placement in the desired second position in the group.
Belarus’ teams have had more of an impact in European club competitions, with the most dominant team in its league, BATE Borisov, qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stage on five occasions, but alas the national team has yet to hitch onto such success develop further internationally. Hindered by continuous political interference, and now a political crisis that is engulfing the country, it looks incredibly unlikely Belarus will qualify for a major tournament for any time to come. Situated in Division C (the third-tier of European international football) of the UEFA Nations League, they missed out on qualification for the upcoming European Championships, via the Nations League route, by losing 1-0 to Georgia in the playoff semi-finals.
Talking about a country which is going through serious politcal problems, and missed out on qualifying for the upcoming European Championship after losing in the semi-finals of the playoffs, we interviewed the knowledgeable and excellent BELPOD. BELPOD is an English-language podcast which focuses on all things involving the world of Belarusian football, and is hosted by Liam Bambridge and Jon Blackwood. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @BELPOD2
- Podcast: https://belpod.podbean.com/
- Liam’s Twitter: @liambambridge71
- Jon’s Twitter: @jonblackwood
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
For the best player, it is a toss up between Vitaly Rodionov, an energetic and skilful forward who spent most of his professional career at BATE Borisov, or Aleksandr Hleb, whom everyone has heard of thanks to his spells at Arsenal, Barcelona and Stuttgart. I will plump for Rodionov as although he had far fewer caps than Hleb he was more consistent throughout his career and has scored more goals than any other Belarusian in European football.
On the best manager, there is only really one candidate – Eduard Malofeev. He has spent most of his professional life in Belarus and won the Soviet Higher League title with Dinamo Minsk in 1982, when that was an incredibly tough and skilful league. He is a passionate and enthusiastic figure who loves to encourage players, and likes attacking football that is played on the ground. Probably Belarus came closest to qualifying for something when they were in Wales’ qualifying group for the Japan / Korea World Cup in 2002, but missed out very narrowly to Ukraine [missing out on a playoff spot by two points]. I suppose you might also make a case for the German head coach Bernd Stange; whilst his record in charge was good, his overall contribution isn’t anything like Malofeev’s.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
I’m not sure the term really applies in Belarus. There are characters, such as the Brazilian born Renan Bressan, who got Belarusian citizenship after a five-year spell playing for FC Gomel and BATE Borisov, and turned out 28 times for his adopted country. He’s back playing for Juventitude in Brazil now. Alyaksandr Kulchy, a nuggety defensive midfielder, also makes this section as the only Belarusian to have reached 100 caps- he ended his career having played 102 times for Belarus, and was a consistent presence in the teams for fifteen or so years.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Belarusian national side currently?
There are some really good players in the current group which have underperformed consistently thanks to substandard coaches being appointed on the basis of politics rather than performance. Igor Staševich and Stanislav Dragun are two excellent midfielders. Vitaly Lisakovich, breaking through at Lokomotiv Moscow, is a skilful and hard working striker whose game has really developed in the last twelve months. There have been much weaker groups in the past.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Things are very difficult in Belarus at the moment owing to the political situation. The incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko stole the last election and the street protests that have followed, have plunged the country into a spiral of crisis and violent repression. As a result, football is not really very high on anyone’s list of priorities at the moment.
The national team had an excellent opportunity to qualify for Euro 2021 via the UEFA Nations League but fluffed their lines with a poor and tactically inept display [losing 1-0] against a Georgia team that shouldn’t really have caused difficulties – a team that went onto lose the final, decisive game against mighty North Macedonia.
In normal times this would have led to much hand-wringing and debate about the game amongst the football community but it seemed to barely register in the current circumstances. Football in Belarus is dominated by the state – there are only two privately run professional clubs in the whole country, and therefore for individual footballers, speaking out on politics or social issues can have serious consequences. Midfielder Stanislav Dragun was dropped from the team for voicing concern at the repression of the street protests last summer and suffered intimidation, allegedly.
Consequently, there’s a historic indifference towards the national team presently. Not only is football seemingly trivial in the very difficult times of struggle that Belarus is living through, the silence of the majority of the national team squad on events in the country have been read by many as complicity. This is perhaps unfair, but an understandable perspective.
Q. Are there any Belarusian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
I’d focus on three players. Ilya Shkurin of CSKA Moscow has huge potential. He is a powerful and free scoring centre-forward who top scored in the Belarusian league in 2019 with a small youth academy club called Energetik-BGU. This got him his big move to Russia where he has settled well. However he has vocally criticised the president and refused to play for the national team for as long as he remains in power, so he may not feature for some time.
Midfielder Dennis Grechikho of Rukh Brest is definitely one to watch, a skilful attacking midfielder with huge development potential – I can see him moving to a club in Russia or maybe Poland in the next year or so. 19 year-old left-back Dmitri Prischepa just left FC Minsk for a long contract with Krylya Sovetov in the Russian Premier League. He’s quick and intelligent with an ability to get up and down the wing, and with a powerful shot. If he manages sufficient game time in Samara I think he has a good career ahead of him.
I’m afraid that otherwise the age groups are at a low ebb. The under 21s lost 0-7 at home to Holland last season. The under 17s were beaten by Moldova and Tajikistan in a recent invitation tournament in Minsk. It looks like slim pickings in the next few years.
Q. Looking at Belarus’ long international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
A 1-0 win against the French at the Stade de France during the qualifiers of Euro 2012. Sergei Kislyak, who is still playing at Dinamo Minsk, scored the winner with four minutes to go. The side drew at home with France in the same campaign. People often mention a narrow 3-4 loss to Italy as well in 2004. Maksim Romashchenko (Belarus’ all time top scorer) netted twice and the Italians were very, very, very lucky to win that game. Anatoly Baidachny’s Belarusians played an attacking game completely without fear.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
There’s been a fair few lately but surely nothing tops a defeat to Andorra, 0-2, at the turn of the century. More recently a woeful 0-1 defeat away in Luxembourg for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Best not to dwell on these abysmal embarrassments though.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Belarusian national team?
We’re observers of the national team rather than fans. Our interest is in Belarusian club football but of course we like to see the national team progressing and doing well. I think if political change comes then it can only benefit the potential of the national team to qualify in the future for a tournament.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
Not applicable in this instance.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
There’s a Mitre shirt from the late 1990s that’s very smart – plain white with a red collar and the old, independent football association badge, as opposed to the current badge which is the state emblem. In saying that the current Macron shirts are very nice indeed.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Belarusian national team?
That Belarusian football can finally realise its undoubted potential in a free and democratic country. As long as politics interferes with team management and selection, the team will suffer. At present any modest successes are in spite of, rather than as a result of, the footballing infrastructure that underpins the development of the national team.
A massive вялікі табе дзякуй to BELPOD for answering our questions on The White Wings. Remember you can find their excellent accounts and podcast in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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