With FC Astana closing in on the UEFA Champions League group stage, UEFA.com's Aydin Kozhakhmetov celebrates Kazakhstan's finest hours in European football.
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A 1-0 home win against APOEL has left Astana within sight of the UEFA Champions League group stage. UEFA.com's man in Kazakhstan celebrates local clubs' finest European performances.
First match and goal
FC Sheriff 2-1 FC Zhenis Astana
17/07/02, UEFA Champions League first qualifying round first leg
Kazakhstan's first goal in UEFA club competition after switching from the Asian Football Confederation was not long in coming. The game was a mere eight minutes old when pioneers Zhenis took the lead through captain Evgeniy Lovchev Jr, son of former Soviet international Evgeni Lovchev. "It is great to have scored a historic goal for your country," Lovchev told UEFA.com. "I look back on my Zhenis times fondly. We had a good team but Sheriff had more European experience."
FC Zhenis Astana 3-2 FC Sheriff
24/07/02, UEFA Champions League first qualifying round second leg
The craved victory arrived a week later in the return leg against the Moldovan team, although it was bittersweet. Having scored three times in 20 minutes either side of the break, Zhenis were well-placed to win the tie only to concede twice before the hour, strikes that consigned them to an away-goals defeat. "We had a three-goal lead but still lost out to Sheriff," then-Zhenis keeper David Loria recalled. "We were gutted as we reckoned we could get further."
European competition triumph
FC Tobol Kostanay
2007 UEFA Intertoto Cup
In 2007, northern Kazakh club Tobol won one of three UEFA Intertoto Cup finals. Dmitriy Ogai's men overcame Zestafoni, Slovan Liberec and OFI Crete to claim a UEFA Cup second qualifying round berth. Tobol then faced Poland's Groclin Grodzisk Wielkopolski, who proved too strong, running out 3-0 aggregate victors. "You get a cup and a medal if you win the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League, but we just got memories," said former Tobol player Kairat Nurdauletov. "But the main thing is that those memories are very happy ones."
Most famous win
FC Shakhter Karagandy 2-0 Celtic FC
20/08/13, UEFA Champions League play-offs first leg
When Celtic visited, there was barely room to move in the stands at the Astana Arena, Shakhter's home for the continental season. Around 17,000 fans travelled the 200km to support their side and were rewarded for their loyalty with goals from captain Andrei Finonchenko and Sergei Khizhnichenko. "When I scored against Celtic, I nearly went crazy with joy," said Khizhnichenko. "I ran to the camera, hugged it and shouted: 'Hi, mum!' I was just overwhelmed." They lost the return leg 3-0, becoming their nation's first UEFA Europa League group stage contenders only scant consolation. Finonchenko said: "Knowing it could have been us – not Celtic – playing Barcelona, Milan and Ajax makes me sad."
Most dramatic success
FC Astana 4-3 HJK Helsinki
05/08/2015, UEFA Champions League third qualifying round second leg
An uneventful 0-0 draw in Helsinki gave little indication of what was to come as both teams went for broke at the Astana Arena. HJK went 2-0 in front, then trailed 3-2, equalising from the penalty spot after the hosts had a man sent off. The Finnish side would have gone through on away goals, but Evgeni Postnikov scored the winner deep into added time. "This is a historic moment for Astana and football in Kazakhstan," said their Bulgarian coach Stanimir Stoilov. "But today we are celebrating and enjoying ourselves because every member of this team is a great hero. It was a terrific match."