Although AZ Alkmaar remain unbeaten in UEFA Europa League Group L, FC Shakhter Karagandy are hoping that the longest journey in the history of UEFA group stage football ends with them taking all three points.
• Shakhter's first meeting with Dutch opponents produced a 1-1 draw on matchday three; Andrei Finonchenko put the home side in front, before Johann Gudmundsson replied for AZ.
• AZ met Shakhter's Kazakh league rivals FC Aktobe in the 2010/11 UEFA Cup play-offs, winning 2-0 at home and progressing despite a 2-1 defeat in Kazakhstan.
• The journey from Alkmaar to Aktobe is around 3,600km. To get to the matchday three game, staged in Astana, AZ had to travel over 4,400km – further than any team has ever travelled for a UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League group stage fixture. Shakhter, however, are breaking that record on matchday four – Karaganda is just shy of 4,600km from Alkmaar.
• AZ are appearing in this group stage for the seventh time; losing UEFA Cup finalists in 1980/81, they made it through to the semi-finals after coming through the inaugural UEFA Cup group stage in 2004/05. In total, they have qualified for the knockout phase four times.
• AZ are without a win in their last three continental home fixtures, though they ended a run of back-to-back defeats with a 1-1 draw against PAOK FC on matchday two.
• Shakhter came within 90 minutes of reaching the UEFA Champions League group stage only to let slip a 2-0 first-leg advantage in the play-offs at Celtic FC. They nonetheless received the substantial consolation prize of a first UEFA Europa League group stage campaign.
• Shakhter have lost their last three European away games.
• Shakhter are the first Kazakh side to have reached a UEFA club competition group stage, and the most easterly club to have reached this far in a UEFA club tournament.
• The distance between Shakhter's home town and that of the most westerly group stage contenders, Estoril Praia, is 6,358km – around one sixth the circumference of earth.
• Shakhter are one of nine domestic champions appearing in this season's group stage while AZ are one of the 11 domestic cup holders in the competition.
• New AZ boss Dick Advocaat is one of four coaches in the group stage to have had his hands on the trophy before. PAOK's Huub Stevens, who won it as a player (PSV Eindhoven, 1978) and a coach (FC Schalke 04, 1997), FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk's coach Juande Ramos (Sevilla FC, 2006 & 2007) and Tottenham Hotspur FC manager André Villas-Boas (FC Porto, 2011) are the others.
• AZ dismissed coach Gertjan Verbeek ahead of matchday two. He had been in charge since 2010, and led the club to Dutch Cup success last season.
• Advocaat was named as AZ's new coach on 16 October, returning to the club where he had spent five months in charge at the end of the 2009/10 season. Twice Netherlands coach, the 66-year-old won the 2007/08 UEFA Cup with FC Zenit, as well as national titles with PSV Einhdhoven (1997/98), Rangers FC (1998/99, 1999/2000) and Zenit (2007).
• A Kazakh title winner in his first two seasons with Shakhter, 2011 and 2012, Russian-born Viktor Kumykov had his career as a goalkeeper cut short by injury when he was 24. He turned to coaching and led home-town club PFC Spartak Nalchik in Russia before embarking on a series of roles in Kazakhstan and then Uzbekistan. Visiting museums is one of his favourite pastimes.
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