Belarus quick to make impression

Belarus's independent football development started only after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Juanfran of Spain in action with Sergei Balanovich (R) of Belarus during their UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier
Juanfran of Spain in action with Sergei Balanovich (R) of Belarus during their UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier ©AFP/Getty Images

Football in Belarus dates back to 1910 when the country's first club, the appropriately named First Gymnasium Football Team, were formed in the south-eastern city of Gomel. The game soon caught on in the capital Minsk, and in provincial centres such as Borisov and Mogilev, and as a result a Belarusian championship was inaugurated in 1922. That was also the year Belarus became part of the USSR.

FC Dinamo Minsk, soon to be the nation's leading club, were established in 1923. Dinamo began to participate in the Soviet football system in 1936, and history shows they were the only Belarusian side to win the Soviet Top League, in 1982. That success came in a decade of sustained achievement by the Minsk outfit – they also made an impact in the UEFA competitions, reaching the quarter-finals of the European Champion Clubs' Cup (1983/84), UEFA Cup (1984/85) and European Cup Winners' Cup (1987/88).

The founding date of the Football Federation of Belarus (BFF or Belorusskaja Federacija Futbola) was 21 November 1989, although it was only after the USSR broke up in 1991 that the country's independent football development started. The new association gained international recognition when it was admitted to FIFA on 3 July 1992, before becoming a UEFA member on 20 June 1993.

The game is now cemented as one of Belarus's most popular sports, occupying a significant place in the nation's physical education programme. More than 25,000 people are involved in football, a figure that includes about 840 professional coaches who manage the teaching and training process. The footballing infrastructure also features 1,700 pitches and 200 stadiums – the biggest is the 17,600-capacity Traktor Stadium in Minsk, and the most modern the 13,084 Borisov Arena which opened in 2014. Over 1,000 referees are actively affiliated to the BFF. The professional league, meanwhile, operates as three divisions, with the top flight – Premier League – comprising 12 teams, the first league 16 and the second league 18. The campaign runs from spring to autumn.

Following the USSR's collapse, Dinamo Minsk emerged as the dominant domestic force, winning five successive Premier League crowns. However, between 1995 and 2006, the championship went to a different club each season, with FC Dnepr-Transmash Mogilev, FC BATE Borisov, FC Slavia-Mozyr, FC Belshina Bobruisk, FC Gomel and FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk all triumphing. Then BATE Borisov took over, landing nine consecutive titles and appearing in the UEFA Champions League group stage in 2008 and twice since.

The national side made their official debut in Minsk on 28 October 1992: a 1-1 draw with another former Soviet republic, Ukraine. The team's cause was aided by the appointment of Eduard Malofeev, who was both a member of the USSR squad that came fourth at the 1966 FIFA World Cup, and the coach who guided Dinamo Minsk to that 1982 Soviet crown. He oversaw their progress through the early 2000s, before German coach Bernd Stange took charge later in the decade.

Belarus failed to make an impact in qualifying for the 1994, 1998, 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups yet narrowly missed out on the play-offs for Korea/Japan 2002. Their best performances have arguably come in UEFA European Championship qualification – beating the Netherlands at home in the EURO '96 preliminaries, picking up four points from France in the 2012 campaign, and drawing twice with Italy and once with Denmark on the road to UEFA EURO 2000.

A first trophy at national-team level arrived in 2002 when Belarus won a Moscow tournament contested by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Russia. That victory heralded further advancements on and off the field. Not only does the BFF boast national representative sides at all age groups; Belarus's football community is proving adept at meeting the challenges of the modern game. Two notable examples came as the BFF hosted the eight-nation final round of the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship in 2009, before two summers later Belarus's men were semi-finalists at the UEFA European U21 Championship in Denmark, winning the right to play at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.