There was a changing of the guard in Kazakhstan, with FC Shakhter Karagandy claiming their first title and FC Ordabasy Shymkent breaking their duck in the Kazakh Cup.
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In a season of notable firsts in Kazakhstan, FC Shakhter Karagandy were league champions for the first time and FC Ordabasy Shymkent lifted their maiden Kazakh Cup. Furthermore, Premier League runners-up FC Zhetysu Taldykorgan had never finished as high, making FC Aktobe's third-place finish an isolated positive for the established footballing powers.
Champions: FC Shakhter Karagandy
FC Shakhtar Donetsk's near namesakes were giants in Soviet-era Kazakhstan but had not claimed a significant trophy since independence – a third place in 2009 and cup final appearances both that year and the next being the Karagandy club's best moments. Among the pre-term favourites, they took top spot in their penultimate fixture with a 2-0 win at Zhetysu, then beat FC Astana by the same scoreline on the final day – despite freezing temperatures and a sudden snowstorm – to clinch the title. "Though the weather tried to stop us, we executed our game plan very carefully," said coach Viktor Kumykov.
Cup final: FC Ordabasy Shymkent 1-0 FC Tobol Kostanay
Having finished a disappointing seventh in the table, Tobol looked to make amends against opponents they had beaten 3-0 in the 2007 final, yet it was not to be. Mukhtar Mukhtarov pounced for the only goal after a defensive mistake before Nenad Šljivić's dismissal made it mission impossible for Tobol. "Our home town deserved this success," said defender Farkhadbek Irismetov. "People love football in Shymkent."
FC Shakhter Karagandy – UEFA Champions League qualifying
FC Zhetysu Taldykorgan – UEFA Europa League qualifying
FC Aktobe – UEFA Europa League qualifying
FC Ordabasy Shymkent – UEFA Europa League qualifying
*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA
Player of the year: Ulugbek Bakayev (FC Zhetysu Taldykorgan)
While the official award is yet to be announced, Uzbekistan striker Bakayev has a great case. A 2010 Kazakh champion with Tobol, he did not manage to repeat that success with Zhetysu, but the one-time PFC CSKA Moskva man could take pride in being the league's 18-goal top scorer. He turned 33 on 28 November, though his age did not discourage Dubai Cultural Sports Club of the United Arab Emirates from signing him for next season.
One to watch: Ulan Konysbayev (FC Shakhter Karagandy)
Midfielder Konysbayev had caught the eye in 2010 at first club FC Taraz before his senior international debut in February heralded a move to Astana. The 22-year-old's exciting year continued with a summer switch to Shakhter and a first international goal – in a 2-1 UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying defeat by Turkey in September. He then concluded the campaign with a first league crown.
Surprise package: FC Zhetysu Taldykorgan
A team from a modest town in the Almaty region who had twice come fifth in the Premier League, Zhetysu were scarily close to landing the title following the arrival of local coach Askar Kozhabergenov. However, after topping the table for much of the campaign, their luck turned with a home loss to Shakhter in their penultimate game. A UEFA Europa League debut in 2012/13 may be some consolation.
The number of successive seasons in which Aktobe have finished in the medal positions – four golds, two silvers and now a bronze, snatched by Vladimir Mukhanov's side from capital club Astana after they lost on the last day of term.
Leading scorer: Ulugbek Bakayev (FC Zhetysu Taldykorgan) 18
Relegated: FC Kairat Almaty, FC Vostok Oskemen
Promoted: FC Sunkar, FC Okzhetpes
"When we were trailing Zhetysu by two points with two games to go, having to play them at their stadium, we were not even thinking about the title. We had almost reached our goal for the season, but when we beat them everything changed. Our board said they would like us to win the league, yet there was no pressure on us, no one demanded anything."
Shakhter coach Viktor Kumykov