Historically the development of football in Kazakhstan was closely connected to the USSR, because Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1991. Clubs participated in the USSR championship, and FC Kairat Almaty from the former capital Almaty had the most success, finishing seventh in the then top flight in 1986. Kairat also lifted the USSR Football Federation Cup two seasons later after beating Neftçi PFK of Azerbaijan.
During this period the most celebrated of Kazakhstan's footballers were Seilda Baishakov and Yevgeny Yarovenko, both from Kairat; Yarovenko was an Olympic champion with the USSR in 1988. Aleksander Khapsalis, from Kairat, and Aleksander Kadeikin of FC Irtysh Pavlodar had earlier won the International Youth Tournament, at Hungary's expense, in 1976.
Kazakhstan's first clubs were founded in 1913/14 in Semipalatinsk, after football was introduced by local merchants who had witnessed the game in England. The pioneer teams – Lastochka, Orlyata, Olimp, SSK and Yarysh – all hailed from Semipalatinsk. Mukhtar Auezov, the famous Kazakhstan novelist, ethnographer and poet, played for Yarysh. Later, Yastreb and Zvezdochka were formed in Pavlodar.
In 1928 the first official competition of the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakh (ASSR) was held in Petropavlovsk. In the ensuing decades Kazakhstan's footballers participated in USSR competitions with varying success. The first body that undertook to develop the domestic game was the Football Federation of the Kazakh SSR, established in 1959 and reorganised in 1989.
After national independence in 1992, Kazakhstan featured in FIFA World Cup qualifying in 1998 and 2002 as members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). They prevailed in the first stage of qualification against Pakistan and Iraq in 1998, before losing to Japan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan in the second. The national side also competed in two AFC Asian Cup qualifying rounds, in 1996 and 2000, in which years the Olympic team tried but failed to qualify for Atlanta and Sydney respectively.
Indeed, the independent Kazakhstan's most significant exploits were the youth team's involvement at the FIFA U-20 World Cup finals in Nigeria in 1999 and Irtysh Pavlodar's fourth-place finish at the 2000/01 Asian Club Championship (now the AFC Champions League). The national futsal team also contested three AFC Futsal Championships, coming third in 1999 and second in 2000, and proceeding to the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Guatemala in millennium year.
In 1992 the Independent Football Association of the Republic of Kazakhstan (FARK) was created following the dissolution of the USSR. Two years later the association gained FIFA and AFC membership. In 2000, though, FARK was re-formed to become the Football Federation of Kazakhstan (KFF) whose greatest achievement would be admittance to UEFA. Given that part of Kazakhstan's territory is in Europe – the main argument for membership – the KFF left the AFC in 2001 and 12 months later was admitted to UEFA.
It was at the UEFA Congress in Stockholm in April 2002 that Kazakhstan joined the European football movement. Subsequently, the national side have figured in European qualification for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups as well as for UEFA EURO 2008 and UEFA EURO 2012. In the 2008 campaign, Kazakhstan earned ten points, overcoming Serbia and Armenia, and drawing with Belgium and Azerbaijan.
Perhaps the most significant progress has been made in the futsal sector. Kairat Almaty, the country's strongest club, reached five UEFA Futsal Cup semi-finals in seven years, claiming third place in 2008/09 and 2010/11 before winning the title in 2012/13. The national Under-21 squad, meanwhile, played in the inaugural UEFA European U21 Futsal Tournament, staged in St Petersburg, Russia, in 2008.
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