The west proved to be the best in Kazakhstan in 2009, with FK Aktobe claiming a third consecutive title while FK Atyrau, from the shores of the Caspian Sea, took a first Kazakhstan Cup.
Champions: FK Aktobe
First hired in January 2006, Russian coach Vladimir Mukhanov led Aktobe to the title in his first season, and has now made it three in a row. A 5-2 defeat of FC Tobol Kostanay saw them take the tape with a game to spare in 2009. Tobol defender Farkhadbek Irismetov spoke for the nation when he said: "Aktobe really were the strongest team this season. We just couldn't match them."
Cup final: FK Atyrau 1-0 FC Shakhtyor Karagandy
It was not a pretty finish, but as he bundled the ball over the line from close range after a long throw, 35-year-old captain Denis Zubko made history for his club, with his goal giving Atyrau a first major trophy. Shakhtyor had two goals disallowed for offside after the break in Astana, but victorious coach Vahid Masudov felt justice was done, saying: "We are very happy to finish this season on such a buoyant note. We finished sixth in the league, though our potential showed we could win something."
Player of the Year: Andrei Tikhonov (FC Lokomotiv Astana)
The 39-year-old led ambitious Lokomotiv Astana after signing from Russian Premier-Liga side FC Krylya Sovetov Samara, with his 12 goals and 19 assists helping his side finish second. "My contract with Lokomotiv is still running and I plan to celebrate my next birthday here in Kazakhstan," said the former FC Spartak Moskva midfielder.
One to watch: Sergey Khizhnichenko (FC Vostok)
A graduate of the club's academy, Khizhnichenko was promoted to the Vostok first team in 2008 but really made his mark this year, making his senior international debut as a 17-year-old with two goals in a 3-1 win against Andorra in June. He scored again, at 18, in a 2-1 loss against Croatia in October, and said: "I am keen to try myself in a more competitive league. I am even willing to play for free."
Surprise package: FC Shakhtyor Karagandy
A 2008 match-fixing scandal left Shakhtyor without a coach, president or directors, but they rebuilt admirably in 2009, with new boss Vladimir Cheburin earning them a top-three finish and a place in the Kazakhstan Cup final. "We did not aim to finish that high," he admitted. "We just played to win in every game."
Leading goalscorers: Murat Tleshev, FK Aktobe, and Vladimir Bayramov, FC Tobol Kostanay (20)
Aktobe midfielder Andrey Bogomolov became Kazakhstan's most successful player as he claimed his seventh local title, with the 32-year-old previously celebrating successes with FK Elimay, FC Zhenis Astana and FC Kairat Almaty.
"Our team's defeats are like a personal tragedy to me. It is like I lost one of my relatives; I need a lot of time to recover."
FK Aktobe coach Vladimir Mukhanov
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