Ireland host Belarus but what do we really know about the country's football?

Alexander Hleb is their most famous export and one club is a Champions League regular

BY Raf Diallo 13:50 Tuesday 31 May 2016, 13:50 31 May 2016

Alexander Hleb, BelarusPicture by: John Walton / EMPICS Sport

Tonight in Cork, all eyes will be on the Ireland team and Martin O'Neill ahead of the midnight deadline for Euro 2016 squad selection.

But what do we really know about the opposition we'll be facing in the friendly international?

Belarus are coming to Turner's Cross tonight but they are a relative unknown at the highest level because they have never qualified for a major tournament since they became independent from the Soviet Union.

And they are an unknown to us because we have never faced them in a senior international.

Belarus' Roy Keane

Roy Keane has probably garnered more column inches than any other Irish footballer during his career and stylistically, ex-Arsenal winger Alexander Hleb never played anything like Roy Keane.

But in terms of his impact as a footballer, he is by far Belarus' most famous product.

Indeed, between 2002 and 2008, he won the Belarusian Footballer of the Year award in all but one year during a career which first took him to Arsenal from Stuttgart in 2005 and then a high-profile but less happy four years at Pep Guardiola's Barcelona from 2008.

Silky feet and excellent dribbling were the hallmarks of his play at his peak and at 35, he is still going.

Bate Borisov's players (Hleb in the No 15) celebrate their victory during group F Champions League soccer match against FC Bayern Munich at Dinamo Stadium in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. Bate won 3-1. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

After returning to Belarus with the country's most famous club,  BATE Borisov in 2012, he has had a number of spells in Turkey, with Gençlerbirli─či being his current club. But he is still an international and is in the squad to face Ireland.

His younger brother, Vyacheslav Hleb, was also a Belarus international who had a less high-profile career in western Europe, although he did play at Bundesliga side Hamburg for a season.

BATE lead the way

The Belarus national team might not have qualified for any senior tournaments but on the continental stage, they have been represented by BATE Borisov.

By far the most successful club in the country, BATE have won the Belarusian league 12 times since 1999 and every title since 2006.

More importantly, they have enjoyed relative success in the Champions League, reaching the group stages in 2008-09, 2012-13, 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Their most famous result in the competition was a 3-1 home win over Bayern Munich in the group stages back in 2012-13, even more significant because the German side went on to win the Champions League that season.

They have also beaten Roma and Athletic Bilbao at home in the last two seasons, although they have yet to qualify for the knockout stages of Europe's elite competition.

Along the way, they have often taken on Irish clubs in the qualifiers. In 2003-04, Bohemians eliminated them in the Champions League qualifiers, while the Belarusians came out on top against Dundalk in the past season's second round of qualifying.


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