Kazakhstan national futsal team delivered nothing less than sensational display in their debut European Championship in Serbian capital Belgrade. We'd like to put this inspiring achievement under microscope.
Making their first appearance in the group phase, Kazakhstan fell to a narrow 2-1 loss to Russia before defeating Croatia 4-2 to seal their progress into the playoffs as the group runners-up.
The next step to glory Cacau's men have taken was an emphatic 5-2 win over defending European champions Italy in a historic quarter-final encounter.
But afterwards, Kazakhstan weren't able to continue the fairytale streak against Spain, as the dominating Iberian side, being on course to retain their title, saw off the brave debutants 4-1 to leave them outside the final.
However, Cacau's charges have ended their maiden elite campaign with a spectacular 5-2 victory over hosts Serbia in the third place match. By clinching it, Kazakhstan managed to become the first Futsal EURO finals debutants to claim medals (since the inaugural edition in 1996), beating a record of Azerbaijan who finished fourth in 2010.
Let's pick out 5 talking points from this great and sensational outcome that have raised many eyebrows all over the continent.
1. Quick Reaction Capability
Kazakhstan could reach the podium in no small part thanks to their ability to get back on track quickly when finding themselves in complicated circumstances which call for an immediate reaction.
In their opening game against Russia, the Kazakhs conceded twice in a 27-second span but instantly came back into it via Serik Zhamankulov's strike, putting opponents' victory into doubt.
Against Croatia, Dinmukhambet Suleimenov scored just 15 seconds after Vedran Matošević's leveller to pave the way for the debutants' first ever EURO win.
Their response was even more convincing and fascinating in the quarter-final rally past title holders Italy. Both Italian goals have been cancelled out inside less than a minute as Chingiz Yesenamanov and then Dauren Nurgozhin restored Kazakhstan's two-goal lead to kill off the contest.
Don't be mistaken, it was a great demonstration of consistency and ability of bossing the proceedings and exploiting opposing sides' momentary lapses of concentration brought in by Cacau.
2. Kairat's Futsal Cup Factor
Back in 2013 and 2015, AFC Kairat Almaty under Cacau's tutelage had won the UEFA Futsal Cup, the most prestigious club tournament in Europe, with Kazakhstan champions sinking Barcelona in the final on both occasions.
These two triumphs remain the only two titles Kazakhstan have claimed after joining European football/futsal family in 2002. And the core of that Kairat side, with the likes of Higuita, Suleimenov, Douglas Jr., Leo, Yesenamanov being their most important players, was something Kazakhstan national team had benefitted from massively.
The fundamental experience of successful battling the top clubs in futsal stage (and not only in Europe, with Kairat winning also Intercontinental Futsal Cup in 2014 and making the final of the competition in 2015), as well as standing by the same manager in Cacau, had helped Kazakhstan to stay solid and confident throughout the EURO 2016 matches. That became a decisive addition to the side's competitiveness which was amazing in Serbia.
3. Higuita the Key
The Brazilian goalkeeper, who was a big part of Kairat's international success, also shined in Kazakhstan national team. His outstanding skills both between the sticks and acting as playmaking defender and prominent finisher have actually been giving the Kazakhs a numerical advantage on the pitch on regular basis. This allowed Cacau's side to generate more shots and goals to get an upper hand over their opposition.
In the Russia curtain-raiser, Higuita's deflected effort turned out to be Kazakhstan first ever EURO finals goal, while against Italy, Kairat's custodian made several brilliant saves to deny the reigning champions in the key moments of the encounter.
The team missed Higuita badly in the semi-finals following his suspension due to his second booking. Without the 29-year-old, Kazakhstan lacked their metronomic rhythm which was pivotal for Cacau's tactics. And it was obvious that Spain had a much more easy task to eliminate the debutants with Higuita watching the game from the stands.
4. An Impact from the Non-Brazilian Players
And it was not only Brazilian trio of the team (Higuita, Leo, Douglas Jr.) that helped Kazakhstan grab the headlines at the EURO 2016. The tournament had revealed a number of native Kazakhstan players, not only from Kairat, who showed they can produce top level performances against strong sides.
Zhamankulov has netted six goals, including his decisive strikes against Croatia and Italy, entering the list of competition’s top scorers and almost winning the adidas Golden Shoe award; the team's captain Suleimenov has provided needed leadership; while Yesenamanov and Nurgozhin played big roles in attack to prove to be Cacau's potent weapon.
Technically and tactically, these players have been impressive all the way alongside with their Brazilian-born teammates.
5. Injuries Didn't Help
Kazakhstan haven't great depth in the squad and that was what we've witnessed during the EURO 2016 as Cacau missed some of his instrumental men for medical reasons.
The team had arrived to Belgrade without injured Nurgozhin who joined them later to recover his conditions through group round. And despite finding the back of the net, Kairat Almaty striker wasn't 100 percent almost for the entire tournament.
Also, it was an injury Yesenamanov picked up in the final stages of Italy clash that affected Kazakhstan's offensive quality in the last four, along with the absence of Higuta. Those who had seen Yesenamanov in action for Kairat and national team, would willingly agree that his contribution is something hard to overestimate.
If it were not for the significant losses occured at the climax of the EURO 2016, who knows, perhaps Kazakhstan could have recorded even more remarkable results.
Goals for Kazakhstan at the UEFA Futsal EURO 2016:
Serik Zhamankulov – 6
Douglas Jr. – 4
Leo – 3
Dinmukhambet Suleimenov – 1
Chingiz Yesenamanov – 1
Dauren Nurgozhin – 1
Aleksandr Dovgan – 1
Higuita – 1