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Offseason Monthly: Top Stories of December 2017

Offseason Monthly: Top Stories of December 2017
A Marin Aničić (5) goal against SK Slavia Praha in their final match of the year was enough for FC Astana to snatch their first-ever ticket to the Europa League knockout stage (Photo credit: fca.kz)

Take a look at the talking points raised in Kazakhstan football related to offseason events and occurences in the last month of the year.

Astana make the breakthrough in Europe

Having registered another domestic title in November, FC Astana refused to rest on their laurels and made a huge impact in the Europa League play. Their 1-0 win away to Czech side SK Slavia Praha on the final matchday of the group phase came as a welcome surprise, propelling Stanimir Stoilov's charges into the knockout stage and into 67th spot in the UEFA club ranking. It is nothing short of an unprecedented height for a Kazakh club, irrespective to the outcome of Astana's upcoming clash with Sporting CP in round of 32. "Astana are all about making history," said Stoilov following the triumph that added to his team's growing reputation of unexpected heroes of European football.

Uncertainty over Stoilov's future

There were rumours about Stoilov's exit almost all year long since the Bulgarian who led Astana to all of their four championships made no secret of his ambitions to try his luck in Europe, with a stronger side. Before the end of his contract in December, numerous reports claimed Stoilov is already set to leave Kazakhstan but no official confirmation of the decision would appear since. Instead, Astana club board expressed its desire to prolong the deal with the talismanic manager, and now the parties are reportedly in active negotiations over his new contract.

Topsport.bg: Stanimir Stoilov's future to be decided at the beginning of 2018

Nikitenko ready to take over the new Tobol project

Kazakhstan U-21 squad manager Vladimir Nikitenko is on the verge of making his return to club football, accepting the offer from Tobol Kostanay, the side he had never guided previously. Nikitenko remains the last domestic coach to win KPL crown, and Tobol hierarchy will be hoping he can bring something vital into the club that struggled badly for years looking to rediscover their excellent medal-winning form of the 2000s which culminated in their only league title recorded in 2010. "It won't be a problem to wear two hats," said Nikitenko following his appointment that hasn't been officialised yet.

Irtysh find their man in Spain

Kazakhstan five-time champions Irtysh Pavlodar who finished fourth in 2017 to fulfill their European dream parted company with the interim coach Vyacheslav Hroznyi in order to find a new manager able to lead them through the new season's complexities. After failed negotiations with ex-Spartak Moskva boss Valery Karpin, they signed an unlikely Gerard Nus, the Catalan tactician with little to no serious experience save the assistance to Rafa Benítez and Avram Grant in their respective technical staffs at Liverpool FC and Ghana and some backup administrative roles at Rayo Vallecano. With Kairat Almaty opted for Carlos Alós Ferrer's deal renewal, the stage is set for the intriguing Spanish coaching duel in the 2018 KPL season. 

Gerard Nus Casanova, new manager of Irtysh Pavlodar (Photo credit: Irtysh Pavlodar Press Office)

Winter deals start to come

Kazakhstan's winter transfer window formally opens on January 11 but some moves have been announced officially before the start of the recruitment campaign. Quite logically, it was Astana who wasted no time reinforcing their ranks amid reports suggesting their stellar winger Patrick Twumasi is nearing the exit door, being targeted by the likes of Hamburger SV and Bursaspor. The capital side signed hot prospects Baktiyor Zainutdinov (from FC Taraz) and Yuri Pertsukh (Akzhayik Oral) and one of the most impressive midfielder of the 2017 season, Shakhter Karagandy's Serbian anchorman Marko Stanojević. At the same time, Tobol unveiled Maxim Fedin (Okzhetpes Kokshetau), Aslan Darabayev (Irtysh) and the Georgia international Jaba Kankava as their new players.

Aktobe's Zyankovich, Simkovic grab PFLK awards

After distributing the majority of its annual awards in November, the Professional Football League of Kazakhstan (PFLK) opened the Internet voting for the Goal of the Year and Free-Kick of the Year awards. It wasn't long before the league revealed that FC Aktobe striker Ihar Zyankovich was named the provider of the best goal of the year (watch the video below), his back-heeled flick against Shakhter scored in July, while the set-piece prize went to his teammate Tomas Simkovic who found the back of Akzhayik's net with his left-footed screamer from about 25 meters out, also in July's outing.

New name, old controversy

Kazakhstan Football Federation (KFF, the nominal successor of FFK, the association's old name) stole headlines early in winter due to its trademark controversies. In the light of the KFF Executive Committee meeting, some media outlets informed about big internal tensions in the football governing body which saw its members move a vote of censure upon the KFF Secretary General Kanysh Aubakirov. Later on, KFF denied the allegations, insisting the organisation is "functioning in a normal operating mode." Nonetheless, Aubakirov has resigned from his post "for family reasons", with the PFLK head Azamat Aitkhozhin stepping in as a caretaker.

Akzhayik reshape themselves

Vakhid Masudov ended his 16-month stint at Akzhayik Oral, with the club replacing the former Kazakhstan national team manager with his Ukrainian colleague Volodymyr Mazyar. Under Masudov, Uralsk outfit defended their top-flight status by finishing 10th both in 2016 and 2017 and winning Promotion playoff last term. Mazyar is well respected in his homeland for his ability to make small teams punch above their weights. Although it remains to be seen whether he will be up to the task, especially given the facts he has never managed abroad and West Kazakhstan club faces budget cuts in 2018.

The 40-year-old Ukrainian manager Volodymyr Mazyar signed a contract with Akzhayik Oral

Kazakhstan slump in Isfahan

In their warmup for the Euro 2018 finals set to host by Slovenia in February, Kazakhstan futsal team got some below-par outcome, Cacau's men finishing bottom in the Four Nations competition in Isfahan, Iran. Despite some decent displays, the Euro 2016 bronze medals winners, affected by fatigue of AFC Kairat's leading performers, could only snatch two points in three games. Their loss to hosts Iran, sandwiched by the ties against Russia and Azerbaijan, left them behind their Caspian counterparts in the table. "With this lamentable result, I have another thing coming, for it's the first time I have lost a friendly game," reacted Cacau. Next important step towards the Euro 2018 final tournament will be January's friendly meeting with Ukraine in Kyiv.

Kairat win Kazakhstan Cup, again

AFC Kairat confirmed their dominance in Kazakhstan futsal in upteenth time by winning another piece of domestic silverware, the national cup. The 2017 edition of the tournament has been held in Rudny (Kostanay Region) where Almaty giants blew away their opponents, including the local side Ayat Rudny whom they beat 4-0 in the final game. The only exception came in the semifinals as Kairat needed an extra-time to defeat MFK Aktobe 2-1, confirming the Red and Whites became the rock in their shoe in recent months. Anyway, this was the 14th Cup title for Kairat, with the nearest rivals Tulpar Karagandy, a non-existent club today, having bagged just three.

AFC Kairat, the 2017 Kazakhstan Cup winners (Photo credit: Ayat Rudny Press Office)

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