Crowds gathered in Almaty last night to celebrate a historic result after Kazakhstan held Belgium to a 0-0 draw in their UEFA EURO 2008™ opener in Brussels.
Cries of 'Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan' echoed around the streets of the former Soviet Republic as Arno Pijpers' team secured an unlikely point in their first ever UEFA European Championship fixture with goalkeeper David Loriya producing a five-star performance to keep René Vandereycken's men at bay. "We did our homework and played to our strengths, which is playing on the counterattack," said Pijpers. "I was never scared of losing the game until maybe the very end."
Football Union of Kazakhstan president Rakhat Aliyev was quick to pay tribute to his side, saying: "An away draw against opponents who were heavy favourites to win this match is a sure sign that our efforts to take football in Kazakhstan to a new level are bearing fruit. We have been working to reform football in the most professional way in the four years since we joined UEFA. The primary factor here was to give our footballers an environment in which to grow and that is, of course, UEFA. We proved that Kazakhstan are not going to be outsiders forever."
Well drilled by their Dutch coach Pijpers, Kazakhstan kept Belgium under control at the Constant Vanden Stock and carved out opportunities to score on the break. With a draw giving them only their second competitive point since joining UEFA, it was a night on which heroes were made. "I think the true hero is our goalkeeper David Loriya," supporter Dmitri Fisenko told uefa.com. "He saved a few shots from point-blank range. His reflexes are out of this world. It's a pity Nurbol Zhumaskaliev and Dmitri Byakov did not score, but it's a great start."
'Like winning gold'
Former FC Kairat Almaty defender Eugeni Yarovenko, who won Olympic footballing gold with the Soviet Union in 1988, was happy to join in the celebrations, saying: "
This point is truly like a gold medal for us. Kazakhstan showed that they can be resilient and that they are not afraid of strong opponents. Maybe it's too early, but you can draw a comparison with Latvia and Ukraine, who played in the European and world finals. Why can't Kazakhstan follow them? I think a big factor in this success is the work of our Dutch training staff. I think this is not the last time we will be celebrating."
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