Tomorrow 20 players will travel to Borisov (Minsk), Belarus for Matchday 2 of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League. We take on FC Bate Borisov, who are in just their 3rd ever Champions League, and therefore not surprisingly it is the first time we have faced one another.
Bate have lost at home on both occasions versus Spanish opposition, Real Madrid (0-1) and Villarreal (0-2). In fact, they have not yet won at home ever in this competition, so we would be some scalp and a real story for this club’s history. Points wise it’s even stevens, with Bate recording an away draw, 1-1 in the Czech Republic, on the first matchday. Now, I’ve been watching a lot of football my whole life, but I cannot give much personal insight into this team. Truth is I only know Mateja Kezman, the Serbian once super prolific striker at PSV who ruined his career at Chelsea under Mourinho, and who after that slipped into obscurity. In fact, he just joined Bate this season from Chinese side South China AA. But in his day, he was a very good player. Otherwise, this side is nearly entirely local, with 87% being from Belarus. The only foreigners are Kezman, another Serbian, and two Brazilians in Renan and Alex Porfirio. I would guess though they will be very fit, tactically organized, and highly spirited.
As I mentioned, we have travelled with 18 first team player as well as Dos Santos and Isaac Cuenca, the sorta lanky, but skillful winger that got a lot of game time pre-season. Here is the full list of 20: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Maxwell, Adriano, Abidal, Fontàs, Puyol, Mascherano, Keita, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Fàbregas, Pedro, Villa, Messi ,Cuenca, and Dos Santos.
Look, we all know that a loss will cause some drama, a draw will be thoroughly disappointing, and we all deep down expect us to triumph, in no small part thanks to that seriously excellent 5-0 win on Saturday. But, these boys will be no slouches and should provide a stern test. We have had really tight encounters in recent times in the East versus the likes of Shakhtar and Kazan. These Bate players know this is a once in a lifetime moment and will treat this match like their Champions League final. Like Pep said so correctly after Madrid, we played at a very high level, but the challenge is to maintain it. If we don’t, as Guardiola underlined, “any team can beat us”.