Season review: Kazakhstan

Swashbuckling FC Shakhter Karagandy retained the title, FC Astana lifted the Kazakh Cup and there were also reasons to be positive for FC Irtysh Pavlodar and FC Taraz.

Shakhter were again formidable
Shakhter were again formidable ©Konstantin Pavlenko

Russian coach Viktor Kumykov strengthened the backbone of his 2011 title-winning side with his footballing philosophy intact as FC Shakhter Karagandy captured their second consecutive league crown with a game to spare.

Champions: FC Shakhter Karagandy 
Prior to 2011, Shakhter had never tasted title success and drew critics for their effective, if unspectacular playing style without troubling the upper echelons of the Kazakh Premier League. That all changed following the appointment of Russian tactician Kumykov, whose arrival yielded a more adventurous approach. This season, Kumykov's principles bore fruit as Shakhter topped the scoring charts with 48 goals in 26 matches, while conceding just 15.

Cup final: FC Astana 2-0 FC Irtysh Pavlodar 
Goals from Kairat Nurdauletov and Tanat Nusserbayev ensured that Astana prevailed 2-0 to lift the Kazakh Cup for the second time in the club's history. Astana, who finished fifth in the table, five points behind their final opponents, took advantage five minutes in as captain Nurdauletov rose to head in a free-kick. Irtysh were under pressure for long spells but kept the scoreline tight until eight minutes from the end, when Kethevoama Foxi crossed for Nusserbayev to turn in Astana's second.

European places*
FC Shakhter Karagandy  UEFA Champions League qualifying round
FC Irtysh Pavlodar – UEFA Europa League qualifying round
FC Aktobe  UEFA Europa League qualifying round
FC Astana  UEFA Europa League qualifying round 

*Subject to confirmation from UEFA

Player of the Year: Ulugbek Bakayev (FC Irtysh Pavlodar)
Uzbekistan striker Bakayev finished top scorer for the third season running. The feat is even more extraordinary when you consider that he has featured for three different clubs in that time. The 33-year-old also has an uncanny knack of scoring at important times; his absence was felt in the Kazakh Cup final. 

One to watch: Dmitriy Shomko (FC Irtysh Pavlodar) 
The 22-year-old has garnered a reputation as a solid, dependable full-back, producing exemplary performances throughout the season. He was the man for the big occasion, and was rewarded with a call-up to Kazakhstan's national team before his glistening season was cut short by injury.

Surprise package: FC Taraz
Perennial mid-table finishers, Serbian coach Ljupko Petrović's uninhibited approach and carefully nurtured reputation for probing, patient football, brought them fourth place. Despite having a small squad at his disposal, Petrović collected some memorable scalps and, most importantly, rekindled belief among the supporters as 11,000 flocked to see their home encounter with FC Ordabasy Shymkent, the club's highest attendance for 16 years.

Leading scorer: Ulugbek Bakayev, FC Irtysh Pavlodar (14)

Relegated: FC Sunkar Kaskelen, FC Okzhetpes Kokshetau

Promoted: FC Ile-Saulet, FC Vostok Oskemen

Number: 8 
The number of successive seasons Aktobe have finished in the top three. In that time, they have won four league titles under the wily stewardship of Vladimir Mukhanov.

"We were often criticised for playing boring football. But today no one can compete with us at the top. We scored more and conceded fewer than anybody else."
Shakhter coach Viktor Kumykov