CIS Cup: 2011 Tournament Preview
The 2011 Commonwealth of Independent States Cup takes place in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg from January 15th-23rd. Having failed to win the 2010 Russian Premier League, CIS Cup holders Rubin Kazan are unable to defend the title they won last year. Although not every team participating in this tournament is likely to send a full strength side the event is still prevalent on the calendar and is now its 19th year. Who will take their place as the best football team in the former Soviet Bloc? Here is a preview of each of the four groups in this year’s competition:
GROUP A: (Inter Baku; FC Iskra-Stal; Istiqlol Dushanbe; FC Neftchi Kochkor-Ata)
INTER BAKU: Qualified as champions of Azerbaijan having pipped FK Baku to the 2010 championship title by a point with FK Qarabağ and Khazar Lankaran a further point behind in a tightly fought contest. Have only had one previous appearance in this tournament in 2009 where they reached the semi-finals only to be knocked out by FK Aktobe.
ISKRA-STAL: Moldova’s representatives following FC Sheriff Tiraspol’s refusal to enter. FC Iskra-Stal, from the town of Rîbniţa in eastern Moldova, came second in the 2010 Moldovan league finishing a distant 19 points behind Sheriff. This is their first appearance in the CIS Cup.
ISTIQLOL DUSHANBE: The club from the capital city of Tajikistan won their maiden national title in 2010 having seen off the challenge of FK Redar-TegAZ by a comfortable 13 point margin in 2010. Their reward is a first appearance in the CIS Cup.
FC NEFTCHI KOCHKOR-ATA: Hailing from western Kyrgyzstan, FC Neftchi just held out to win a first ever national league title in 2010. Having beaten traditional powers FC Dynamo-Dordoi to the championship by a solitary point FC Neftchi can now look ahead to a first appearance in the CIS Cup.
GROUP B: (FC Bunyodkor; Mika Yerevan; Skonto Riga; FC Tobol Kostanay)
FC BUNYODKOR: The new dominant power in Uzbekistan sealed their third consecutive championship in 2010 seeing off their traditional Tashkent rivals Pakhtakor with an eight point margin. In their only CIS Cup appearance to date Bunyodkor reached the quarter-final stage in 2010 but succumbed to HTTU Ashgabat after a penalty shoot out.
FK MIKA YEREVAN: None of Armenia’s top three teams opted to send a team to Russia for this tournament so FK Mika, who finished fourth in their league championship last season, are left to fill the void. This will be their maiden showing in this tournament.
SKONTO RIGA: Latvia’s record champions finally ended a six year trophy drought in 2010 winning their 15th league title following the usual three-way tussle with FK Ventspils and FHK Liepājas Metalurgs. Skonto have participated in this tournament on many occasions and have finished runners-up three times in 2001, 2003 and 2004.
FC TOBOL KOSTANAY: Situated in northern Kazakhstan FC Tobol finished one point ahead of FK Aktobe in the title race and, thus, became champions for the first time in the club’s history. This is the first time that FC Tobol will participate in this tournament.
GROUP C: (FC Balkan; Flora Tallinn; Schakhtsyor Salihorsk; Zenit St Petersburg)
FC BALKAN: Turkmenistani champions in 2010, FC Balkan secured their second domestic title with a five point margin over Altyn Asyr FC. Have competed in this tournament once before in 2005 under the name of Nebitçi Balkanabat but failed to get past the group stage.
FLORA TALLINN: Finally got their hands on the Estonian Meistriliiga title for the first time since 2003 when getting the better of eternal rivals Levadia by five points. Flora have reached the quarter-finals of the CIS Cup in three consecutive years from 2002-04 but have never got beyond this stage.
SCHAKHTSYOR SOLIGORSK: Belarus runners-up Schakhstyor finished six points behind perennial champions BATE Borisov in 2010 but will take their place in this year’s CIS Cup. Have competed in this tournament on one occasion in 2006 but failed to reach the knockout rounds.
ZENIT ST PETERSBURG: The host city will see local team Zenit represent Russia having won their second Russian Premier League title last year. Zenit reached the quarter-finals in their only appearance thus far in 2008 but were surprisingly knocked out by FBK Kaunas. Heavily fancied to go all the way this time.
GROUP D: (Dynamo Kyiv; FK Ekranas; HJK Helsinki; Russia U-21)
DYNAMO KYIV: Dynamo finished second in the 2009-10 Ukrainian Premier League last season finishing six points behind Shakhtar Donetsk who have refused to send a team to this tournament in 2011. Dynamo have won this trophy four times (1996, 97, 98, 2002), more than any other club, and will be strong contenders for a fifth crown.
FK EKRANAS: Lithuania’s A-Lyga champions for the sixth time following their seven point triumph over FK Sūduva in 2010. FK Ekranas reached the semi-finals in the inaugural competition in 1993 and repeated the feat last year but have yet to go one step further.
HJK HELSINKI: Finland’s Veikkausliiga champions have been invited to this tournament for the last three years and this will be a second consecutive appearance for HJK. Having won the 2010 Finnish championship by a four point margin the Helsinki club will want to better last year’s CIS Cup appearance where they lost in the last eight stage to Rubin Kazan.
RUSSIA U-21: The Russian Under-21 side is invited to take part only in the group stage of the competition. Should they finish in the top two places in Group D then the next best teams will go through to the quarter-finals.