Five talking points from the last weekend in 2017 as the league title and the remaining European spot were decided in the final minutes of the season.
1. Astana end up deserved winners
There is no undeserving champions if they emerge like FC Astana do. Patience, good planning and decision-making both in managerial and coaching department made them competitive in an unprecedented way.
The club has had another consistent season, both domestically and internationally, gaining success in a high-profile rivalry with mighty Kairat Almaty that left the South capital team empty-handed for the fourth straight year. In 2014, Kairat had finished seven points adrift of Astana (and even two shy of runners-up FC Aktobe), while the further seasons they had come close only to taste frustration, seeing their titles hopes crushed with slimmest of deficits, one point (2015), two points (2016) then one again.
Amazingly enough, Kairat couldn't dethrone Stanimir Stoilov's men, despite earning solid wins in the Two Capitals Derby matches, enjoying easier fixture list since July and claiming a historical achievement of losing just once in an entire league campaign. Astana have lost four games but still deserved more to finish at the top, and their final-day 2-0 win over Akzhayik Oral that sealed their silverware was nothing less than an act of justice.
2. Fonseca catapults Irtysh to Europe
"He is a real life-saver for Irtysh, a performer of a very good level. In difficult moments, he provides leadership, makes the difference, one of the best foreign players in the league," reacted Kazakhstan football veteran and coach Bulat Yesmagambetov when asked about Irtysh Pavlodar versatile attacker Carlos Fonseca.
Indeed, the Portuguese has been among the most important squad members at Irtysh, alongside the likes of David Loriya and Aslan Darabayev. And there was plenty of symbolism in the fact that it was Fonseca who finally lifted his side to fourth spot, a newly-opened European berth in the wake of FC Atyrau's loss in the Kazakhstan Cup final, by netting a great last-gasp decider against Shakhter Karagandy.
The Fonseca-led 1-0 victory which triggered an emotional reaction from the team's bench and manager Vyacheslav Hroznyi denied the last suggestions about Irtysh's unwillingness to compete in Europe. Thumbs up, guys.
3. Kaisar complete their awesome post-promotion season
A 1-0 victory over the Miners not only sent Irtysh into their second successive Europa League season ahead of Tobol Kostanay but also prevented Shakhter from claiming their best finish since 2014. Until Fonseca's goal, the Pitmen sat sixth in the KPL table above Kaisar Kyzylorda before the loss coupled with Kaisar's 1-0 win at FC Taraz saw them drop to seventh.
With that, Kyzylorda club retained their mid-season positioning in the top six, a fantastic outcome for the modest newly-promoted side guided by Stoycho Mladenov. The latter, appointed in December 2016, was a true architect of this achievement, his side looking solid throughout the season, almost never being in danger and offering some impressive showings.
The fifth-best defence in the league, Kaisar have finished 16 points clear of the relegation zone, and their eventual 42-point record is the best haul they registered in top-flight since 2008.
Results of the KPL promoted teams over the past decade
** Relegation playoff
4. Late show from the KPL teams...
Ordabasy Shymkent striker Preslav Yordanov marked his appearance for South Kazakhstan club with a surprising treble to make a decisive contribution into his side's 3-2 home victory against Okzhetpes Kokshetau in which they twice came from behind.
With the Bulgarian's heroics, the league have amassed six hat-tricks in 2017, three of them coming in the last three gameweeks, and it was a welcome addition to weekend's showdown which contained plenty of intensity and intrigue, in spite of the fact that some teams lacked motivation.
16 goals has been scored in the process–some of those wonderful pieces of skill–including a title-winning double from Junior Kabanaga, the 23rd strike from the league-leading hitman and Kairat's iconic attacker Gerard Gohou (the best tally in the scoring charts since 2001), Andrey Arshavin's goal and a double from Aktobe summer signing Tomas Simkovic. It seemed to be a pretty way to round off the season.
5. ...For the biggest crowd of the season
"Today's match took a lot of nerve, it was a thriller, and I think our fans loved it," said Yordanov after his stellar performance. He was right about the reaction from supporters, which was significant, and not only in Shymkent.
The league hit attendance record on the final matchday as the Week 33 action featured the season-highest crowd of 37,000 (over 6,100 per game). These are impressive numbers given not-so-big overall interest paid to football by wide audiences and climate issues in Kazakhstan where low temperatures and cold weather are common things in November.
The previous 2017 attendance record has been set in Week 4 (March 31–April 1, May 28) when 33,500 spectators attended Premier League matches. Yet it's worth to remark that all this official statistic should be treated as a bit of window dressing since attendance data is tended to be overestimated by football authorities.