With 1986 European champions FC Steaua Bucureşti awaiting in the third qualifying round, FC Aktobe have a big task on their hands to make the play-offs. In the dugout, however, they have a man of famous coaching stock who is aiming to bring group stage football to the club for the first time.
Vladimir Gazzaev – son of former Russia, PFC CSKA Moskva and FC Dynamo Kyiv coach Valeri Gazzaev – is carrying on his esteemed father's trade. The 34-year-old was appointed by the Kazakh outfit on 10 July and immediately showed his promise, guiding his new side to a UEFA Champions League second qualifying round first-leg win at FC Dinamo Tbilisi in his second game in charge.
"It is difficult to change something in such a short time as I did not know my players' capabilities, though I had worked with some of them before," said the former FC Alania Vladikavkaz coach, who replaced Vladimir Nikitenko. "I am grateful to them for showing their mettle and making it past Dinamo. Although we won by a big margin at home [3-0], it was never easy for us."
Some put that commanding second-leg victory down to the presence of Gazzaev Sr in the stands, and another appearance by the man who steered CSKA to UEFA Cup glory in 2005 would be more than welcome when Steaua visit the western Kazakh city on Wednesday.
Aktobe would be guaranteed at least a place in the UEFA Europea League group stage should they eliminate Steaua, who enter the tie as the fancied side. "Before the match everyone is equal," said Gazzaev. "It is only after the Bucharest leg that we will know who goes further. I have read Kazakhstani newspapers and I know they see the Romanians as favourites, but everything will be decided on the pitch. We have been set a task to make it to the next round and we aim to do so."
Whether they succeed or not may depend largely on how they perform defensively. Though the Kazakh Premier League leaders' backline has been reliable for the most part – they have conceded 17 goals in 21 games – there has been the odd aberration, such as a 7-1 defeat by FC Kairat Almaty on 6 July which proved Nikitenko's undoing. Gazzaev aims to manage his side's strengths and weaknesses as best he can, but knows Steaua will test them to the full.
"[Steaua] have a very balanced team, but the attackers – Cristian Tănase, Adrian Popa and Alexandru Chipciu – stand out. We are facing a battle against a strong team. Everyone understands that perfectly. We will do everything in our power [to go through]."
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