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U-21 Euro Qualifiers: Kazakhstan Unable to Hold Onto Narrow Lead Over Bulgaria

U-21 Euro Qualifiers: Kazakhstan Unable to Hold Onto Narrow Lead Over Bulgaria
Baktiyor Zainutdinov (2L) opened the scoring for Kazakhstan U-21 though the advantage over their Bulgarian counterparts was short-lived (Photo credit: kff.kz)

The second part of the European Under-21 Championship qualifying Group 9 double header saw Kazakhstan draw 1-1 with the visiting Bulgaria at the Astana Arena.

Baktiyor Zainutdinov came off the bench to make an impact for Kazakhstan only for the visitors to cancel his goal out on the stroke of full-time.

After extending their winless streak in the Euros qualification to four matches, Vladimir Nikitenko's men dropped to third spot in the section's table.

Having played group-biggest five matches, Kazakhstan bagged six points, sitting three points behind France and one point shy of Slovenia.

Kazakhstan missed suspended Maxim Fedin as coach Vladimir Nikitenko made three changes to the lineup featured in the 2-2 draw in a reverse fixture four days earlier.

Both sides made a slow start to the contest, lacking pace and fluency, with the opening 45 minutes being generally uneventful.

Bulgaria enjoyed more possession yet struggled up front. At the same time, Kazakhstan were focused on defence, relying on long balls in offensive play.

Goalkeepers remained spectators until the final third of the first half when the game opened up due to the increased tempo.

Demiyat Slambekov sent his volley from the edge of the area inches wide of the far post, the most decent chance before the interval.

Kazakhstan started the second period on the front foot, creating a string of goalscoring opportunities. Bulgaria survived scares, however.

Oralkhan Omirtayev missed the target, converting Didar Zhalmukan's inviting cross before Kuanysh Kalmuratov directed his diagonal whipping attempt off the frame.

Later, Omirtayev, the saviour for Kazakhstan in the previous matchup in Bulgaria, came the closest by rattling the bar with his rocket of a shot from about 13 meters out.

Kazakhstan's counterattacks looked dangerous but Bulgaria responded impressively after the hour mark by striking the woodwork via Aleksandar Georgiev.

Keeper Nikolay Krastev then was called into action twice in the short span, denying Kalmuratov and Sultan Abilgazy during one exciting sequence.

Chances were coming thick and fast, mostly from Kazakhstan, with Bulgaria absorbing pressure and hitting their opposition on the counter.

Eventually, the host side's intensity coupled with Nikitenko's amendments paid off with 14 minutes remaining in the game.

The breakthrough was provided by substitute Zainutdinov as Alexandr Sokolenko set up the midfielder for his left-footed finish from 12 meters out.

Bulgaria threw themselves forward, and Antonio Georgiev fired his free-kick over the crossbar before Georgi Rusev's close-range effort was cleared by the defenders.

This way or another, the visitors managed to equalise moments later, with Ventsislav Kerchev heading home a corner kick delivered by Rusev.

Each side pushed for a late winner for the remainder of the meeting, however neither one succeeded until the final whistle.

In their next qualifier, Kazakhstan youth team face a tough test, the home clash against the Group 9 leaders France, scheduled for March 23, 2018.

2019 UEFA Under-21 Championship Qualification Group 9

Kazakhstan v Bulgaria 1-1 (0-0)
10/10/2017, Astana Arena (Astana). Ref: Musiał (POL).
KAZ: Kolbuntsov, Mazhitov, Shadmanov, Abilgazy, Sokolenko, Najaryan (Zainutdinov 62), Kalmuratov, Pertsukh, Omirtayev (Sarsenov 85), Slambekov (Lyukhay 74), Zhalmukan. HC: Vladimir Nikitenko (KAZ).
BUL: N.Krastev, Kerchev, Hristov, Velkov, Kostadinov, Karabelyov (Yordanov 82), An.Georgiev, Al.Georgiev, Despodov (Rusev 82), Dimitrov (K.Krastev 77), Ivaylov. HC: Antoni Zdravkov (BUL).
Goals: 1-0 Zainutdinov (76), 1-1 Kerchev (89).
YC:

Group 9 standings

 Pos  Team  Pld  W  D  L  GF  GA  GD  Pts
 1  France  3  3  0  0  9  4  +5  9
 2  Slovenia  3  2  1  0  7  3  +4  7
 3  Kazakhstan  5  1  3  1  8  8  0  6
 4  Luxembourg  5  1  1  3  5  10  -5  4
 5  Bulgaria  3  0  2  1  3  4  -1  2
 6  Montenegro  3  0  1  2  3  6  -3  1


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