FC Tobol Kostanay welcome Galatasaray SK with a place in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round at stake and the Kazakh side hoping to make their mark against European giants.
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FC Tobol Kostanay are fine-tuning preparations for Thursday's visit of Galatasaray SK with a place in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round the prize and the Kazakh club hoping to make their mark against European heavyweights.
Based in Kostanay in northern Kazakhstan, Tobol have finished in the top three in their Premier League for the last seven seasons – including four runners-up berths, missing out on the crown by a point in 2005 and losing to FK Aktobe in a title play-off a year ago. If they are still to taste championship glory, their bad luck has also spread to European competition, with narrow defeats by FC Basel 1893 and FK Austria Wien in recent UEFA Cup qualifying campaigns. Hopes are high, however, that Dmitriy Ogai's men can upset Galatasaray and their new coach Frank Rijkaard over the next seven days, even if such expectation is tinged with apprehension.
Having succumbed to Aktobe on penalties in last season's league decider, Tobol have struggled for consistency in 2009 and, 14 games into the domestic campaign, they lie eleven points behind the leaders and titleholders. To compound matters, 37-year-old Stanimir Dimitrov has said the Galatasaray matches will be his last, while fellow defender Kairat Nurdauletov is suspended and new signing Geisar Alekperzade more accustomed to an attacking role. On the plus side, key midfielder Ruslan Baltiev will be fit after an injury sustained on international duty last month as Tobol attempt to build on an impressive home record.
A goalless draw with Basel and 1-0 victory over Austria Wien certainly give cause for optimism at the Tcentralny Stadium, where a sizeable crowd will be willing their favourites on against Galatasaray. "Ninety per cent of tickets were sold three days before the match," Tobol director Nikolai Panin told uefa.com. "I'm sure we'll have a sell-out crowd at our 8,000-capacity ground." The concern for Ogai is what happens on the pitch, although the coach has stopped short of making rash predictions: "I don't understand when [people] say we should beat Galatasaray 2-0 or 3-0. Every time we go on to the pitch we want to win, but it's impossible to predict if you will succeed or not. We will do our best to get a decent result."