BATE Borisov Exits Shadows to Join European Elite, Manchester City Struggling in Champions League

BATE Borisov Exits Shadows to Join European Elite, Manchester City Struggling in Champions LeagueLeonard Cohen was right. There is a crack in everything — even European soccer's established order.

If you don't know much about Belarusian soccer club BATE Borisov, you're not alone, but you should take notice.

After two rounds of UEFA Champions League action, BATE stands alone atop group F with six points — a position about which Manchester City can only dream.

BATE downed mighty Bayern Munich on Tuesday, thrilling its fans with a 3-1 victory. Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes told anyone who would listen that his team deserved to win, but he should let those sour grapes turn to wine and drink them like a tonic.

BATE and its stable of no-name Eastern Europeans (no disrespect) thoroughly deserved to beat last season's Champions League finalist. Sure, Bayern dominated possession for most of the game, but the first half statistics were most telling: Fullbacks Holger Badstuber and Philipp Lahm had the most passes, center backs Jerome Boateng and Dante trailed them by a good number, and holding midfielder Javi Martinez was right behind the defensive quartet.

It's star-studded attacking force found it difficult to do anything other than float crosses into the box and hope the towering Tomas Muller or Mario Mandzukic would head it home. They often outnumbered in the box, and couldn't turn crosses into shots. When they did, goalkeeper Andrey Gorbunov repelled their efforts without much fuss.

BATE ceded possession and territory to a top-class opponent, but its players were comfortably positioned to defend in their own half. The defensive line played high enough to compress the field, but not so high so as to be suicidal. At the same time, the Belarusians defended deep enough to concede most of the territory, but not so deep that its outfield players couldn't harass and pressure Bayern's attacking players for the full 90 minutes. It was a picture of perfect defending.

BATE couldn't have scored three without some ability going forward, and its unorthodox quality kept Bayern's defense off balance for much of the game. Early on, BATE looked like it wanted to match Bayern's smooth passing with a "tika-taka" approach of its own and it was a pleasant surprise. But it abandoned the approach after 15 minutes, seemingly content with playing the ball out of bounds rather than lose possession in a dangerous area.

Defend and counter was the way forward, and BATE slashed Bayern twice — through Aleksandr Pavlov and Vitali Rodionov — before Franck Ribery cut the lead in half in the 90th minute. Bayern was still harboring dreams of rescuing a point when substitute Renan Bressan scored BATE's third.

Not even the world's most uninspiring public address announcer, at Dinamo Stadion in Minsk, could put a damper on this one. It was the biggest win in club history, and the players celebrated like as such. BATE manager Viktor Goncharenko was jubilant, but kept the three points in perspective, UEFA.com reports.

Simply fantastic! That's our team's spirit," he said. "We worked hard to reach this point. I congratulate the fans and the team. I can't find words to express my gratitude to everyone. I don't want to single out players. It doesn't matter who scored and who gave the assists. The team is the one that won tonight.

"We must have been born under a lucky star. Emotions are overwhelming, but I'm far from euphoric. We earned a grand victory, but you shouldn't speculate that now we have to win every match. It's the Champions League and we shouldn't forget that."

Elsewhere, 16 games were played in the second round, and the away team won seven and drew two of them. Groups A and F were the outliers, as Arsenal, BATE and Valencia handled their business. Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United and FC Barcelona won as expected. Malaga, Celtic FC and AC Milan (yes) were surprise road warriors.

Also, early favorites Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern have some work to do if they want to reach the last 16.

Meanwhile, Manchester City's Champions League campaign is sputtering in the (capital D) Deadliest of groups. Losing against Real Madrid in the opening game was no catastrophe. The home draw against Borussia Dortmund in the second game was no disaster, but only because the superb Joe Hart conspired with Mario Balotelli to prevent it from becoming one. City travels to Amsterdam on Oct. 24 for a crunch meeting with Ajax. A draw in that game would be a calamity. Mathematics tells us that a loss would be the sum of catastrophe, plus disaster, plus calamity. That equals a UEFA Europa League place in numerical terms.

Have a question for Marcus Kwesi O'Mard? Send it to him via Twitter at @NESNsoccer, NESN Soccer's Facebook page or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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