DINAMO Minsk manager, Sergei Gurenko has braced his team for a ‘tough struggle’ against Derry City on Thursday night based on his only experience of Irish football.
The former AS Roma midfielder was Slavoljub Muslin’s assistant when Serbia defeated Ireland 1-0 in Dublin last year on their way to qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia as group leaders.
The Serbian FA then sacked Muslin and his coaching staff just weeks after securing their place at Russia 2018, leaving Gurenko to concentrate fully on Dinamo’s title tilt.
So while he missed out on facing Brazil in Group E in Moscow, he can look forward to a first trip to the north west of Ireland for a Europa League first round qualifier against the Candy Stripes.
Gurenko admits it was the worst possible draw for his side given, not only the logistics and visa difficulties, but also the type of football he’s expecting to encounter at Brandywell.
The Dinamo team arrive by charter flight to Belfast on Wednesday. It’s a journey into the unknown for the Dinamo boss but he insists he won’t allow his side, who are overwhelming favourites to progress, to become complacent. Indeed, he is careful not to disregard Derry as a ‘simple rival’.
“Definitely, I’d prefer to meet the teams from ex-Soviet countries,” admitted Gurenko. “It’s less to fly, and their football is more familiar. There’s also more information about those teams.
“This is my task - to draw all focus of Dinamo players to this match. Our lads haven’t won anything, haven’t achieved anything to be complacent against any opponents in the Europa League.”
Dunajska Streda or Dinamo Tbilisi await the winners in the second round of qualifiers but Gurenko refuses to look beyond the two legged tie with City.
“We know those teams. We know Dinamo Tbilisi well, there’s a bit less information about the Slovak side. Nevertheless, there’s no need to think about them. All information is to be gathered in it’s own time. Now there are two fixtures with Derry City ahead.”
I can say that the matches with the national team of Ireland were the toughest struggle, the most difficult ones.Sergei Gurenko
In terms of the League of Ireland and Irish football in general, Gurenko is basing his knowledge on his brief experience with the Serbian national team who played Martin O’Neill’s Ireland side home and away in the World Cup qualifying group.
“I worked in the national team of Serbia, we played with the Irish in the same group,” he recalled. “I can say that the matches with the national team of Ireland were the toughest struggle, the most difficult ones.
“They were pressing us well, they are well prepared. All players are physically strong. So judging by the national team of Ireland it is not a simple rival.”
The Belarusians are currently in second place behind leaders, BATE Borisov in their domestic league and are on ominously a seven match unbeaten run going into Thursday’s Europa League clash.
Gurenko has limited knowledge of Derry City but has obviously skimmed over a brief history of the club as he congratulated the Candy Stripes on its 90th anniversary.
“We studied the team briefly, looked at their game, but no other information has been collected so far. We respect the 90-year history of the club, we congratulate Derry City on this anniversary! Our club celebrated its 90th anniversary last year. But their present state is much more interesting. The way they look here and now.
“There is no pressure on us, he added. “But we set highest goals, although we realise it will be even more difficult to reach the group stage with the tournament’s new system.”
Derry City lost heavily to Shakhtyor Soligorsk in 2014, losing 6-1 on aggregate but despite Shakhtyor currently sitting two places below Dinamo, Gurenko doesn’t read too much into that result.
“That score now has no value. That happened long ago and we shouldn’t pay attention to the results of that time.”
After his initial concerns about travelling to Ireland, the Dinamo head coach is excited about the prospect of testing his side against unfamiliar foes.
“There surely will be some excitement, as European games always differ from domestic ones. But I hope my footballers will cope with it and have a good game. I’m expecting only positive result and we must score!”