We have summarized some talking points concerning friendlies against Azerbaijan (1-0 in Antalya) and Georgia (1-1 in Tbilisi) Kazakhstan played out in the space of four days late in March.
After Yuri Krasnozhan hasn't been renewed, Football Federation of Kazakhstan weren't successful in finding an immediate replacement in another foreign coach, with their attempts to bring in some 'democracy' through an online vote among the supporters being a failure and, say the least, a laughing stock across the web. And it was Talgat Baisufinov who eventually was hired on a temporary basis to guide the team in the two first post-Krasnozhan outings.
The Akzhayik Oral boss grabbed his chance with both hands as he provided some important influences that hard to overlook. It seems the 47-year-old managed to keep and build on the best from his predecessor's brand and improve it by adding a great atmosphere into this group of players.
They looked united, focused, motivated, confident, relaxed, balanced and tactically rock-solid. Making his bow with convincing display against well-known Robert Prosinečki and Vladimír Weiss (Azerbaijan and Georgia bosses respectively), Baisufinov let many think that the local management was being underestimated for years in Kazakhstan.
The FFK have to receive the message and reflect on whether they should offer Baisufinov a permanent deal come FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign start.
2. Kazakhstan are invincible in three
By claiming a well-deserved victory and draw to string them together with previous 1-0 win over Latvia earned under Krasnozhan at the end of the UEFA EURO 2016 qualification in October, Kazakhstan produced their most positive run of results on the road since gaining UEFA membership.
One would argue that the first game wasn't completely away match because Azerbaijan also played away from home. Nevertheless, it is an obvious fact that Kazakhstan remain unbeaten on their three consecutive trips.
That's a great feat given that previously in Europe, Kazakhstan who sit 125th in FIFA Ranking were able to stay lossless only in two back-to-back away matches, against Belgium and, again, Azerbaijan in the EURO 2008 qualifiers under Arno Pijpers back in 2006. And this is another strong argument in favour of Baisufinov, the first domestic manager to lead Kazakhstan to a victory in their European history.
3. Smakov: one step away from milestone
If you try to find legends in Kazakhstan football of the 21st century, you would point to Samat Smakov, 37. One of the true iconic players of the country, FC Aktobe and Kairat Almaty cult hero, whose leadership in backline and midfield had made him the Kazakh version of Theo Zagorakis and Gennaro Gattuso, Smakov started his senior international career in 2000.
Since then, Sam had his highs, including his emotional penalty goal against Belgium in the EURO 2008 qualifier, and lows, such as the three-year absence from the national team ranks he faced partly due to unsporting reasons. But he has always been among the most respected and influential individuals in Kazakhstan game both on and off the pitch.
His long spell at the international scene, with plenty of matches capped as captain, continued in March to reach an important point. Ahead of the Azerbaijan and Georgia games, Smakov has been just one game shy of Ruslan Baltiyev's 73-game record tally. Now, having been fielded in both, he is on the verge of becoming a most-capped Kazakhstan international.
The milestone could be reached in August, with Kazakhstan team visiting Kyrgyzstan in their upcoming friendly match, or at least, during the World Cup preliminaries this fall. All eyes are on you, Sam!
4. Clinical finisher most wanted
In the two encounters, Kazakhstan were able to feature almost bullet-proof defence and quite an impressive goalkeeping, with Stas Pokatilov extending his good international run of form (two shutouts, 220 minutes without conceding a goal), David Loriya confirming his skills and experience, in spite of being beaten once by Georgia, and their sub Vladimir Plotnikov making an excellent 45-minute debut which involved a couple of great saves in Tbilisi.
The midfield also deserved credit but what Kazakhstan suffered from in Azerbaijan and Georgia clashes was a lack of firepower. Carving out a number of goalscoring opportunities, the Kazakhs could convert them into just two goals – Maksat Baizhanov's header from a corner, and Azat Nurgaliyev's stunning 'golazo' after a perfect passing sequence.
Maybe in Antalya, the conversion rate has been affected by ill luck as Kazakhstan were denied by woodwork two times but the second game proved that aside Nurgaliyev's strike Baisufinov's men weren't accurate enough to trouble the opposing goalkeeper. Four or five attempts were missed badly as a host of players failed to find the frame of the goal, sending their attempts dramatically wide. Only Ulan Konysbayev came close with his low effort from tight angle after running into the box from the right.
Against Georgia, the team had just one shot on target while the natural strikers Alexey Schyotkin and Sergey Khizhnichenko went scoreless again. With the side's front line netting just once in last 15 games (Schyotkin got the goal in Moldova friendly back in February 2015), the predatory finisher role and overall quality in attack remain among Kazakhstan's biggest concerns.
5. White suits them
Kazakhstan have a habit of using yellow and blue as their main kit colors but in both 2016 friendlies, they performed in white to add to an old impression that this hue is something special for them. In retrospect, white shirts had been a part of rare but memorable experience as the national team, when wearing them, had produced several promising games in terms of results and/or consistency.
A 2-1 loss to Croatia, with lot of competitiveness and the opponents' last-gasp winner, registered in the 2010 World Cup qualification; a 2-1 win over Azerbaijan in the EURO 2012 qualifier; a 0-0 tie with Austria in the 2014 World Cup preliminary match; a 0-0 draw against Latvia, the first point bagged in the EURO 2016 qualification, followed later by a 2-1 away setback against Czech Republic, in which the Kazakhs were extremely tough – the obvious thing all these matches have in common is Kazakhstan's white kit.
The team always seemed to have heart and spirit when wearing it, so there are sensations that white can become a sort of talismanic color for the side, in AC Milan manner, since the football fans remember the Rossoneri prefering to use white shirts in their European Cup finals in the 1990s and 2000s.
Good guys don't wear white? Nothing of the kind.