Kazakhstan have reached their debut UEFA European Futsal Championship but it is not their or their players' first taste of the big time thanks to the influence of Kairat Almaty.
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Kazakhstan have reached their debut UEFA European Futsal Championship final tournament but it is not their or their players' first taste of the big time.
The Football Federation of Kazakhstan (KFF) was a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) before joining UEFA in 2002. The nation's futsal team duly finished third in the inaugural AFC Futsal Championship in 1999 and a year on were runners-up to Japan, thereby qualifying for the FIFA Futsal World Cup later in 2000 in Guatemala – losing to holders Brazil, the hosts and then eventual semi-finalists Portugal.
After the country's switch to UEFA, they have been inching closer to Futsal EURO qualification, with the profile of the sport helped by Kairat Almaty's exploits in the UEFA Futsal Cup, the club getting to a string of semi-finals before lifting the trophy in 2013 and 2015. And it is with Kairat coach Cacau at the helm, and players Higuita, Leo, Douglas, Nikolay Pengrin and Dinmukhambet Suleimenov in the team, that Kazakhstan have finally qualified, their victims including Portugal.
3 February: v Russia, 18.30 (head to head P2 W0 D0 L2 F1 A9)
5 February: v Croatia, 18.30 (head to head P1 W0 D0 L1 F1 A5)
- Key facts
Best performance: first qualification
Players to watch: Higuita (goalkeeper), Leo, Dinmukhambet Suleimenov
- Three questions: Cacau, coach
What does it mean to qualify for the first time?
It is a great achievement for the whole country – finally we have made it. We cannot wait to compete among the European elite. We have been given huge help by our federation, with futsal in Kazakhstan becoming more and more popular and developed. I am confident we will be regular participants in EURO final tournaments from now on, so expect us to be back in two years, four years and beyond.
What is your impression of your Group C opponents?
We are in a very unpredictable group. We know Russia are always at the top end in Europe, their level of play is really high. Croatia are also experienced and regular participants in major championships, so this is a big challenge for us. But for sure Russia are big favourites in our group.
Does the success of your Kairat team boost your confidence for this tournament?
Of course it is easier for me as head coach of both teams to work with the players. We have eight players from Kairat in the national team so I see these boys almost every day, which for me is very important. With the support of the ministry of sport and the government of Kazakhstan we have very good conditions to further progress futsal in our country.