Astana make Champions League history, Kairat fire into Europa League playoffs.
Kairat on the brink of glory
Those Kazakhstan clubs involved in European competitions improved significantly in recent seasons. Following Shakhter Karagandy’s entry into the UEFA Europa League group stage in 2013 – first one in Kazakh football history – another teams added to that trend, especially in remarkable 2015/16 season.
Kairat Almaty produced a brilliant campaign in Europa League, Vladimír Weiss’ men conquering its qualification stages in style. They have dismantled Serbian side FK Crvena Zvezda (2-0, 2-1), promising Armenian outfit Alashkert (3-0, 1-2) and famous Scottish club Aberdeen FC (2-1, 1-1) before facing FC Girondins de Bordeaux, one of the most celebrated French teams. Having gained their first ever playoff round experience, Kairat were on the verge of progressing into the group phase to replicate Shakhter’s success.
Almaty side lost 1-0 at Bordeaux in the first leg but found an impressive response on home soil in front of a sold out crowd, taking control in the tie by scoring two unanswered goals inside an hour of the game. Unfortunately for Kazakhstan team, Bordeaux whose manager was EURO 2000 winner and World Cup 2006 runner-up Willy Sagnol could reduce the deficit and then keep the hosts at bay to get the result which saw them escape. A 2-1 win was not enough for Kairat to eliminate another big European opponent but they were so close to the groups.
A breakthrough from Astana
The most spectacular achievement Kazakhstan earned at the European football stage in 2015 (and in its entire history since gaining UEFA membership) was provided by FC Astana. In the summer, reigning Kazakh champions squeezed through UEFA Champions League qualification to record maiden Kazakh presence in the tournament’s group phase. Not bad for a debut in the UEFA elite competition!
Making that long anticipated breakthrough, Astana defeated ambitious sides with lot of quality in Slovenian champions NK Maribor (0-1, 3-1), Finnish powerhouse HJK Helsinki (0-0, 4-3) and Cypriot top club APOEL (1-0, 1-1).
The more you have, the more you want, as the saying goes; Stanimir Stoilov’s team delivered more than one sparkling performance against big rivals in the group stage. At Astana Arena, they shared the spoils with Turkish giants AS Galatasaray (2-2), Spanish top guns Atletico Madrid (0-0) and Portuguese heavyweights SL Benfica (2-2) to remain invincible at home in European season. Every of these matches, being played in fantastic atmosphere, proved to be a great and joyful event for the city and the country. Also Astana looked consistent at Benfica and snatched an away tie against Galatasaray to collect four points in the group. It wasn’t enough to secure Europa League spring football but still impresses.
To their huge credit, Astana managed to bag such stunning achievement both internationally and domestically as the capital city club, the part of Astana Presidential Sports Club supported by Samruk-Kazyna JSC, reclaimed their Premier League title and reached the Kazakhstan Cup final.
Futsal, the source of Kazakhstan titles
Based on these results, Kazakhstan kept lifting in the UEFA Coefficients Table. As it stands, the country sit 28th in the rankings, something that must be received as an unprecedented and valuable success.
And this is not a full story, with Kazakhstan flying high in the continental main futsal club competition. AFC Kairat Almaty put themselves in the driving seat in 2014/15 UEFA Futsal Cup by nothing less than winning it in a remarkable way.
In the Futsal Cup Final round in Lisbon, Kairat handed Russian champions Dina Moskva a 5-3 defeat in the extra time of the thrilling semis to progress into the deciding showcase where they proved too strong for the title holders Barcelona. Clinching a well-deserved 3-2 victory over the Spanish side, Kairat gave Kazakhstan its second silverware in the UEFA tournaments. The first, by the way, was provided by the same club, with AFC Kairat lifting Futsal Cup in the identical manner in 2013.