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Kazakh clubs' greatest European nights

Published: Tuesday 19 August 2014, 8.35CET
With FC Aktobe and FC Astana in the UEFA Europa League play-off,'s Aydin Kozhakhmetov celebrates Kazakhstan's finest hours in European football.
by Aydin Kozhakhmetov
from Almaty
Kazakh clubs' greatest European nights
Shakhter line up prior to their UEFA Europa League group stage match against PAOK last season ©Getty Images
Published: Tuesday 19 August 2014, 8.35CET

Kazakh clubs' greatest European nights

With FC Aktobe and FC Astana in the UEFA Europa League play-off,'s Aydin Kozhakhmetov celebrates Kazakhstan's finest hours in European football.

With FC Aktobe and FC Astana in the UEFA Europa League play-offs and thereby in contention to match FC Shakhter Karagandy's historic group stage appearance last season, looks at five milestones for Kazakh clubs in Europe since the country was admitted to UEFA in 2002.

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 AFC was not long in coming. The game was a mere eight minutes old when pioneers Zhenis, now a second-tier side by the name of FC Astana-1964, took the lead through captain Evgeniy Lovchev Jr, the son of former Soviet international Evgeni Lovchev. "It is great to have scored a historic goal for your country," Lovchev told "I look back on my Zhenis times fondly. We had a good team, but Sheriff had more European experience."

First win
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 Tiraspol team, although it was bittersweet. Having scored three times in 20 minutes either side of the break, Zhenis were well-placed to reach the next stage only to concede twice before the hour, strikes that consigned them to an away-goals defeat. "We had a three-goal lead but still made way for Sheriff," the then Zhenis keeper David Loria recalled. "We were gutted as we reckoned we could get further."

©Getty Images

Sergei Khizhnichenko against Celtic

Most famous win
FC Shakhter Karagandy 2-0 Celtic FC
20/08/13, UEFA Champions League, play-off round, first leg
As Celtic visited, there was barely room to move in the stands at 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."

©Getty Images

Shakhter fans enjoyed the group stage

Group stage breakthrough
FC Shakhter Karagandy
2013/14 UEFA Europa League

Shakhter ended Kazahstan's long wait for a group stage berth a year ago — yet the experience could have been so much grander. Having eliminated FC BATE Borisov and KS Skënderbeu, the Miners held a two-goal lead against Celtic as they travelled to Glasgow for the second leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off tie. A 3-0 loss condemned Shakhter to the UEFA Europa League, where they finished bottom of a section containing AZ Alkmaar, PAOK FC and Maccabi Haifa FC with only two points to their name. "Qualifying for the UEFA Europa League was a big success for football in Kazakhstan and I am very happy that it was my home-town club that did it," said Finonchenko. "But knowing that it could have been us — not Celtic — playing Barcelona, Milan and Ajax makes me sad."

European competition triumph
FC Tobol Kostanay
2007 UEFA Intertoto Cup

In 2007, the northern Kazakh club won one of the three UEFA Intertoto Cup finals. Dmitriy Ogai's men overcame FC Zestafoni, FC Slovan Liberec and OFI Crete FC 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," recalled former Tobol player Kairat Nurdauletov. "But the main thing is that those memories are very pleasant ones."

Last updated: 03/06/15 5.44CET

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