Always the bridesmaid, finally the bride: FC Tobol Kostanay clinched their first title in Kazakhstan in 2010, with FC Lokomotiv Astana taking the Kazakh Cup in their second full season since being formed from the merger of FC Astana and FC Megasport.
Champions: FC Tobol Kostanay
Runners-up four times in the seven preceding seasons, Tobol finally shook off the mocking nickname 'Forever Second' following the arrival of Russian coach Ravil Sabitov – finishing a point clear of 2009 champions FC Aktobe. The 2007 Kazakh Cup winners showed a taste for drama as they let a ten-point lead evaporate in the autumn, but held on despite a 5-2 home loss to Aktobe with three Premier Liga rounds to go.
Cup final: FC Lokomotiv Astana 1-0 FC Shakhter Karagandy
The visitors brought a mighty 4,400-strong travelling support to Astana for the final, yet did not bring any luck. Shakhter hit the crossbar through Andrey Finonchenko and Aleksandr Kislitsyn early on, but never recovered from conceding a 35th-minute goal to defender Mikhail Rozhkov from a corner. Moscow-born Rozhkov ended the year as a fully fledged Kazakh international.
FC Tobol Kostanay – UEFA Champions League qualifying
FC Aktobe – UEFA Europa League qualifying
FC Irtysh Pavlodar – UEFA Europa League qualifying
FC Lokomotiv Astana – UEFA Europa League qualifying
*Exact rounds and entry subject to final confirmation from UEFA
Player of the Year*: Nurbol Zhumaskaliyev (FC Tobol Kostanay)
Tobol's 29-year-old captain has been a club regular for a decade, but finally got the medal he had been longing for this time around. The attacking midfielder scored 15 times – including his side's first and last goals of the campaign, the latter direct from a corner. It was overdue reward for his sterling efforts and leadership.
* UEFA.com's choice; official selection yet to be made
One to watch: Dmitri Shomko (FC Irtysh Pavlodar)
The 20-year-old defender made his first-team breakthrough in 2009 before coming on leaps and bounds in his second season, playing in 30 Premier Liga games as Irtysh finished third. Kazakhstan's former coach Bernd Storck also gave the youngster a first international call-up, though he is still to make his debut.
Surprise package: FC Irtysh Pavlodar
Five-time Kazakh champions Irtysh had gone from title challengers to relegation strugglers in recent campaigns, coming ninth in 2009, yet the appointment of 42-year-old coach Talgat Baysufinov seemed to re-energise them. Irtysh vied with Tobol for top spot at the start of the season, and even if that momentum slowed they did enough for a bronze medal.
Leading scorer: Ulugbek Bakaev (FC Tobol Kostanay) 16
Relegated: FC Akzhayik Uralsk, FC Okzhetpes Kokshetau
Promoted: FC Vostok, FC Kaysar Kyzylorda
Irtysh became the first team to score 1,000 Kazakh league goals having participated in all 19 post-independence seasons. The 21-year-old Vitali Goloveshkin got the landmark goal with seven minutes to go in their final game of the campaign at Lokomotiv Astana.
Quote: "We played well in spring and summer, then went into hibernation until Aktobe woke us up. Talking to my players about that game, I could sense they were furious. It was a bitter and painful experience but very useful. We then took nine points from the last three games to clinch the title, so I would like to thank the Aktobe players and coaches. Ultimately they helped us."
Coach Sabitov explains how a 5-2 defeat by Aktobe pushed Tobol on towards the title.
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