The Belarusian Premier League, known locally in Eastern Europe as the Vysshaya League, is one of the few leagues operating during the early summer months.
Understandably, the spotlight has shifted to this obscure league by the media and the leading sportsbooks, as fans throughout the continent seek their European football fix (the Nicaraguan Football League doesn’t count!)
Established in 1992 following the independence of Belarus in December 1991, the Vysshaya League included Dinamo Minsk, who were the only Belarusian professional team to compete in the highest Soviet League prior to independence.
The Vysshaya League would also comprise five Belarusian teams from lower leagues in the Soviet football pyramid, along with ten from the Belarusian SSR First League.
At its height, the Vysshaya League had 17 professional teams in its infancy, but its competition has had as few as 11 teams in the past (2012). Fortunately, this year’s competition looks to be alive and kicking, with 16 teams doing battle for the national title.
Who are the main contenders?
It’s hard to look beyond BATE Borisov as the favorite for this year’s title. They are one of the few Belarusian teams to make an impact on the European stage via the UEFA Champions League in recent years.
They have reached the group stage of the Champions League five times and in the 2012-13 campaign, they achieved a famous home victory over German giants Bayern Munich.
Interestingly, 2019 was the first year that BATE Borisov failed to win the Belarusian Premier League since 2005 when Dynamo Brest upset BATE’s dominance to prevail and win their first title – more on Brest shortly.
Bet365 have BATE priced as odds-on favorites to regain the championship in 2020. Bet365 are one of several operators listed with Oddschecker to dish out free bet credits valid after registration, with the chance to get a £100 matched bonus to enhance a wager on BATE’s title tilt.
Key to BATE’s success this season will be midfield lynchpin, Stanislaw Drahun. Drahun, who has 66 caps for the Belarus national team, is well-versed at Vysshaya League level and has a knack of arriving late in the box to score vital goals.
We’ve already touched upon Dynamo Brest’s unprecedented success in the 2019/20 campaign, but it’s worth going into a little more detail. Although they had previously won the Belarusian Cup three times, the Vysshaya League had always eluded them.
That was until last season when Sergey Kovalchuk’s men ripped up the form book and stormed to their first-ever national title. Brest were unstoppable last year, losing just one of their 30 league games en-route to a comprehensive championship victory.
Their title means that they will play in the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League for the first team, having appeared in the Europa League three times in 2007, 2017, and 2018 respectively.
Unfortunately for Brest, their early season form in 2020/21 appears a little less dominant. After seven games, Brest have already lost two more games than they did for the entirety of last season. In fact, seven games in, the unlikely leaders of the league are FC Slutsk.
The team finished 11th last season and were by no means expected to be challenging at the right end of the table. Nevertheless, BATE look ominously well-placed to assume top spot, sitting just three points behind Slutsk after game week seven.
The likely whipping boys
It appears that the step-up between the Belarusian First League and the Vysshaya League is a sizeable one if the current league table is anything to go by. Both promoted sides Belshina and Smolevichi are without a league win so far.
Smolevichi are a team with a relatively little history, having been formed as recently as 2009. In 2010, they entered the Belarusian Second League and in the last decade have worked their way up two more divisions to the Vysshaya League.
Despite having a relatively solid defensive unit, scoring goals has been the real issue, managing just three in their opening seven fixtures.
As for Belshina Bobruisk, it’s been almost two decades since they were competing at the top end of Belarusian football, winning the Vysshaya League back in 2001 when they achieved a league and cup double.
Belshina bounced back from the Belarusian First League last year, storming to the title, but are faring just as badly as Smolevichi at present, with just two points from a possible 21.
Belshina’s squad is an eclectic mix of journeymen footballers, including 31-year-old Brazilian forward Nivaldo – who has had no less than 12 clubs in 12 seasons – and Nigerian Samuel Odeyobo, who traveled from Lagos to Belarus in 2013 and has stayed in Belarusian football ever since.
The probable also-rans
Without also-rans, there would be no football leagues. If you are wondering who the likely mid-table fodder will be in this year’s Belarusian Premier League, we’ve got you covered. One team that are unlikely to push for domestic honors or fear relegation is Gorodeya.
Based just outside the capital city of Minsk, this small town is powered by its sugar industry. In fact, the town’s main sugar mill owns the football club, which secured promotion to the Vysshaya League in 2015 and has stuck around ever since.
Unfortunately for fans of Gorodeya, they aren’t pretty to watch. They don’t concede many, but they rarely score too, which makes for some dull football indeed.
It’s also worth mentioning FC Energetik-BGU Minsk. BGU stands for the Belarusian State University and the team’s nickname of The Students underlines their youthful roots. They have plenty of talented youngsters in their ranks but are considered somewhat naïve in their approach.
They are certainly good to watch and tend to score plenty of goals but leave themselves incredibly open to counter-attacks at the back too.
There’s also mid-table perennials FC Vitebsk, who have struck up an unlikely friendship on Twitter with fans of English League One side Ipswich Town, according to the EADT.
Sure, the Belarusian Vysshaya League doesn’t have the glamour and the razzmatazz of the English Premier League, but it’s gritty and wholesome viewing for ardent football fans.