Coaches from the country's three eliminated teams have told FK Aktobe they "will be playing for all of Kazakhstan" when they take on Werder Bremen in the UEFA Europa League.
Fingers will be crossed throughout the former Soviet republic as Vladimir Mukhanov's side kick off their play-off tie in Germany on Thursday, attempting to become the first Kazakh club to reach the group stage of a UEFA competition. The odds would seem to be overwhelmingly against them, but coaches in Kazakhstan believe all is not lost.
Leonid Nazarenko, whose FC Irtysh Pavlodar side lost to Hungary's Haladás FC on away goals in the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round, told uefa.com: "The Kazakh champions are not as weak as people in Europe think. The standard of our league has improved significantly and Aktobe are definitely the strongest team in the country. If the Germans underestimate them, Aktobe will punish them."
FC Okzhetpes Kokshetau were knocked out by FC Zimbru Chişinău at the same stage of qualification as Irtysh. Coach Eduard Glasunov is still smarting at their exit; Okzhetpes having contrived to follow up a 2-1 win in Moldova with a 2-0 home defeat: "I couldn't get through to my players how important the second leg was," he said. "We won the first but couldn't dictate terms at home." The honour of hosting a first UEFA game in Kokshetau was some consolation.
Glasunov, like Nazarenko, reckons Aktobe could yet have more of a say in Europe. "Aktobe are a powerful team who have had the same squad for three years," he continued. "They can surprise Werder." That view is shared by FC Tobol Kostanay's assistant coach Askar Kozhabergenov, whose club fell to Galatasaray SK in the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round.
Kozhabergenov had even expected Aktobe to prosper in the UEFA Champions League after they ousted Iceland's FH Hafnarfjördur in the second qualifying round. The Tcentralny Stadium outfit looked on course for the UEFA Champions League play-offs having taken a 3-0 lead in the second leg of their next tie, at Maccabi Haifa FC, only to be stung by four Israeli goals and bow out 4-3 on aggregate. Kozhabergenov was one of many football fans in Kazakhstan stunned by that reverse.
'Wish them luck'
"I was very disappointed when I heard Aktobe were 3-0 up in Israel but then lost 4-3 and were eliminated," he told uefa.com. "I don't think Aktobe are a lesser team than the Israeli champions. Now they could get the breaks in attack against Werder, when they will be playing for all of Kazakhstan. I wish them luck."
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