It was three years ago that many people across the world gained a strong interest in Belarusian football as it was the only country left who played on during the first lockdown. The clubs of the Belarusian Premier League such as Neman Grodno, Slutsk and Belshina Bobruisk acquired many fans in the United Kingdom alongside the more well known BATE Borisov and Dynamo Brest.
I wrote about the league over the course of the 2020 season and some of the 2021 campaign but just didn't have the time to keep it up - However, I have still kept an eye on the leagues as well as the country in general.
THE COLD END is a football website so I will try and keep it to beautiful game only and not the current political situation in Belarus.
BELARUSIAN PREMIER LEAGUE MATCH DAY ONE PREVIEW
FC MINSK v SLAVIA MOZYR
Former Belarus u21, Gorodeya and Belshina Bobruisk boss Sergey Yaromko has been appointed manager after Vadim Skripchenko's departure to City rival's Dynamo Minsk. As is usual with FC Minsk they have a very young squad with centre forward Kirill Zabelin recruited from First League side Lida where he scored 11 goals in 24 league games last season. Currently their oldest outfield played in 24 year old midfielder Egor Lapun who has joined from First League side Shakhtyor Petrikov.
Despite losing 1-0 to Slutsk in the Belarusian Cup Quarter Final Second Leg last week Slavia Mozyr went through to the Semi-Finals 2-1 on aggregate thanks to 2-0 First Leg win.
Slavia have a trio of Moldovan Internationals in their ranks in Christian Dros, Igor Costrov and Anderi Cobet. Former Shakhtyor Soligorsk and Gomel boss Ivan Bionchik is the new man in charge of Slavia this season - they finished the 2022 season in 10th with FC Minsk in 6th.
NAFTAN'S LAST GAME IN THE TOP TIER WAS IN NOVEMBER 2017 WHEN THEY LOST 1-2 TO ISLOCH.
SHAKHTYOR SOLIGORSK v NAFTAN NOVOPOLOTSK
The 2022 Champions welcome the 2022 First League champions on the opening day of the season. Naftan return to the top tier for the first time since the 2017 season.
Shakhtyor Soligorsk who won the title for the third season in a row by five points last season have been hit with alleged match fixing allegations with a "criminal case being initiated against a representative of the Shakhtar football club' - Read more details here
. I'm not sure what the current situation is at present?
The vastly experience Yuri Puntus (Vitebsk, Slavia, Torpedo Belaz, Belshina, Smolevichi and Dynamo Brest) is the boss at Naftan - the record of promoted clubs in recent years isn't great aside from Gomel.
Puntus replaced the title winning boss Vyachelsav Gerashchenko in December who has joined relegated DNEPR Mogilev. He joins after a short spell from July to December with Vitebsk who were relegated from the top tier last season.
Naftan have made a number of singings including Georgian midfielder Revaz Slaukvadze who may well start in this game.
The departures of Roamn Stepanov, Ilya Chernyak, Roman Yuzepchuk, Dmitri Podstrelov, Milos Satara, Ziam Divanovic, Maxsim Plotnikov and Nikola Antic show Shakhtyor's squad won't be as strong as it was last season. All have joined clubs overseas.
Togo forward Euloge Placca might step up to be a player for the champions this season having made just eight league starts last season scoring four goals.
FC GOMEL v BATE BORISOV
The giants of the Belarusian game were runner's up in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Their third place finish in 2022 was the first time they had finished lower than the top two since 2005 when they were fifth. The fifteen time champions have a new Manager for the 2023 season in former Rukh Brest boss Kirill Alshevskiy who has been in charge since October 2022.
Alshevskiy has recruited 31 year old centre-forward Dennis Laptev who has returned to Belarus following a two year spell with Torpedo Moscow. He started his career with Slavia Mozyr and has also played for Shakhtyor Soligorsk, Dynamo Brest and Rukh Brest. Laptev has 30 full International caps for Belarus and his scoring record in the Premier League reads 83 goals in 201 appearances.
Laptev scored a hat-trick in the 5-0 Belarusian Cup Quarter-Final Second Leg last weekend.
Dmitri Antilevskiy, 25, has also recently signed for BATE from Dinamo Tiblisi - He is a full Belarus International right sided midfielder/attacker who will add experience to their squad.
Gomel have had highly respectable fourth and seventh place finishes after their return to the top tier in 2021. Vladimir Nevinskiy will be looking for more of the same this season. He has signed 22 year old Turkish midfielder Furkan Akin from Moldovan side Dinamo-Auto.
DYNAMO MINSK v ISLOCH
A City derby to open the season with as Vadim Skipchenko takes charge of Dynamo for the first time having moved from FC Minsk at the end of last season. Dynamo had a good pre-season with eight wins, two draws and only one defeat.
Vladamir Khvashchynski follows Skipchenko and rejoins Dynamo from FC Minsk. The 32 year old Belarusian International had a great 2022 season scoring 20 goals in 27 league games.
The signings of Pavel Sedko from Gomel along with a trio of players from last season's runners up in Alexsandr Svirepa, Artem Makavchik and Andrey Rylach also look astute signings.
Abdul Babdanogo is also a new signing - the 24 year old midfielde joins from Portuguese Second Tier side CD Trofense. He will join his fellow Burkinabe playe Abdoul Gafar in the league who currently plays for Slutsk.
Dmitri Komarovskiy took over as Isloch boss in December in his first managerial role. The former BATE Borisov and Shakhtyor Soligorsk centre forward was assistant last season and finished his playing career with the club in 2021.
A new signing is Prince Kwabena Adu is 19 year old Ghanian centre forward who moves from Bechem United. Adu was included in The Guardian's Next Generation 2020 list and has represented Ghana at under 20 level who described him as a "clever and mobile striker with explosive rapid acceleration and nifty dribbling". Could he follow in the famous and much loved Momo Yansane's footsteps? Mo joined Isloch as a 21 year old in 2019 and went on to score 23 goals in 57 starts for the club.
He also could be a replacement for Daniel Sosa who left Isloch recently to join Ukrainian club Krivbass. He joined Isloch in July 2021 and scored 15 goals in 43 Premier League games.
DYNAMO BREST v TORPEDO ZHODINO
The 2019 champions and one of the best supported clubs in Belarus struggled last season and were in real danger of relegation eventually finishing just above Arsenal Dzerzhinsk in the final table.
Former Belarus National Team boss Igor Kruishenko was appointed manager in December joining from Indonesian Liga 1 side Periskabo 1973.
Dmitri Baga will bring some much needed experience to Dynamo's midfield. The 33 year old spent last season with Gomel and is most well known for his time with BATE Borisov from 2008 to 2015 and 2017 to 2020.
Torpedo will be move into this game with some confidence following their victory (on penalties) over Shakhtyor last weekend.
Dmitri Molosh has been in charge of Torpedo since December 2021 and will look to improve on their eighth place finish last season.
ENERGETIK-BGU v SLUTSK
A truly amazing 2022 season for such a small club with limited resources as The Students finished as runner's up above the giants of BATE Borisov which was an outstanding achievement for former Smorgon boss Pavel Rodnenok who was appointed last February.
Many players have departed since and they will certainly miss the goals of Uzbekistani striker Bobir Addulkholikov (26 goals in 30 games) who has moved to Khazhstani club Ordabasy.
Slutsk who gained many fans during lockdown have finished 14th, 9th and 11th since 2020. The result of this game could be an indication of where Energetik will be this season. Alexsandr Gurinovich, 37, is the new boss of Slutsk having been promoted from Assistant - He has also previously been manager of their reserve side as well as playing for the club.
SMORGON GOT THEIR FIRST WIN IN THEIR SIXTH GAME OF THE BPL IN 2021 - THEY HAVE A GOOD CHANCE OF WINNING ON THE OPENING WEEKEND THIS SEASON?
SMORGON v BELSHINA
Belshina haven't had a spectacular pre-season with just two wins, two draws and five defeats from nine games played alongside two 5-0 defeats in the two legged Belarus Cup Quarter-Final. In the friendly games they have netted just four times with fourteen goals conceded.
Belshina were relegated in 2020 but bounced back at the first time of asking in 2021. Last season they finished in twelfth place but had only one win in their last twelve league games played - It looks like another season towards the bottom of the table for Albert Rybak's side.
24 year old centre-forward Ilya Sen makes the move up to the top tier after playing for Volna Pinsk, DNEPR Mogilev and Sputnik Rechitsa in the First League. He scored 10 times in 22 league games for Volna last season.
The Bears return to the top tier after relegation in 2021. They finished as runner's up of the First League last season.
Igor Trukhov has been in charge of Smorgan since November 2021. Nigerian centre-forward Idris Nuradeen has been signed on loan from BATE - He spent the 2022 season with Arsenal Dzerzhinsk where he made only two starts. His only goal in the Belrusian Premier League came back in 2021 when he was on loan with Smorgon in a 1-0 win over FC Minsk.
With the Premier League only running with fifteen clubs this season Neman Grodno are not in action. Maxline Rogachev did win the promotion/relegation play-off against Arsenal Dzerzhinsk but were denined a licence to play in the top division.
BELARUSIAN PREMIER LEAGUE 2023 (15 CLUBS)
Naftan Novopolotsk - Promoted from First League
Smorgon - Promoted from First League
BELARUSIAN FIRST LEAGUE 2023 (17 CLUBS)
Arsenal Dzerzhinsk - Relegated from Premier League
Bumprom Gomel - Premier from Second League
DNEPR Mogilve - Relegated from Premier League
Niva - Promoted from Second League
Vitebsk - Relegated from Premier League
Zhodino-Yuzhnoe - Promoted from Second League