The celebrations are starting to die down in Almaty after Kazakhstan claimed their first competitive victory since joining UEFA against Serbia on Saturday.
A crowd of 20,000 at the Tcentralny Stadium roared the home side to victory, with the ancient Kazakh war cry of "Arouakh!" echoing from the stands, as goals from Kairat Ashirbekov and Nurbol Zhumaskaliyev sealed the win despite Serbia reducing the deficit through Nikola Žigić. Admitted as UEFA's 52nd member association in 2002, the triumph had been long overdue.
'It had to happen'
Striker Murat Suyumagambetov was overjoyed at the final whistle. "We were waiting for a win - it had to happen," he said. "We deserved it. We did not sit back, we pressed our opponents and created chances. I want to say thank you to all our supporters and praise [Football Union of Kazakhstan president] Rakhat Aliyev for our move to UEFA. Now our fans can see us winning in Europe."
The result was surprising considering coach Arno Pijpers had been contending with a number of injuries, handing Farkhadbek Irismetov a rare start at left-back. "We are not as skilful as the Serbs, but we took three points through hard work," said the FC Tobol Kostanay defender. "Now we can face other European sides with more belief. We are no longer the punchbags we were a year ago."
With anchorman Andrei Karpovitch injured, playmaker Ruslan Baltiev was given a more defensive role and ended up putting in a great performance. "Every challenge was very hard, because Serbia have top-class players from the best clubs in Europe," said Kazakhstan's most experienced international. "We held nothing back and that is why we won."
Prior to Saturday, Kazakhstan had failed to win in 17 competitive matches in FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship qualifying, drawing three and losing 14. Much credit for the belated victory must go to centre-back Maksim Zhalmagambetov, who managed to contain the considerable aerial threat of Real Racing Club Santander striker Žigić for most of the game.
"The coach spoke only of victory before the match," said Zhalmagambetov. "We had to win because we owed our supporters for a few home defeats last year. It is great that we can start paying back our debts. As for Žigić, there was nothing out of this world about marking him. The coaches trusted me, and I am happy I did not fail them."
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