Қазақстан / Qazaqstan / Kazakhstan
- Capital: Nur-Sultan / Нұр-Сұлтан (formally known as Astana / Астана)
- Official Languages: Kazakh, Russian
- Nicknames: Қаршығалар (The Hawks)
- Association: Қазақстанның Футбол Федерациясы (KFF)
- FIFA Code: KAZ
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Asian Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best Asian Cup Result (Women): Group Stage (1995, 1997 & 1999)
- Best WAFF Championship Result (Men): Group Stage (2000)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 83rd (September 2016)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 58th (March 2009)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 166th (May 1996)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 79th (July 2011)
- Most Capped Player: Samat Smakov – 76 caps
- Top Scorer: Ruslan Baltiev – 13 goals
The Republic of Kazakhstan (Қазақстан Республикасы) is a large landlocked country situated in central Asia. Originally a republic within the Soviet Union, it declared its independence in 1991, and became the second largest republic to spring forth from the USSR after the Russian Federation, and the ninth largest country in the world. The country naturally shares a long land border with its larger neighbour Russia to the north, the People’s Republic of China to the east, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to the south, and Turkmenistan to the southwest, with the latter three countries also being former republics within the USSR.
Kazakhstan became a member of FIFA in 1994, and like their fellow central Asian neighbours, joined the AFC despite the old Soviet Union side being part of UEFA. They tried to qualify for both the 1996 and 2000 Asian Cups but the Hawks were unable to qualify for either tournament although they came especially close to qualification for the 2000 edition, but missed out by a single point with Qatar topping the group and progressing instead. Kazakhstan’s stay in Asian football would be a short affair however as they applied to become a UEFA member in 2000 and became a full member in 2002, becoming one of a few countries within international football to switch confederations. As a result, Kazakhstan would become the most easterly country within the UEFA domain.
As part of European football, Kazakhstan have yet to qualify for either a European Championship or World Cup, although the country continues to develop as a member of UEFA. In the Euro 2020 qualification group, Kazakhstan had their best ever qualification campaign when they won three games (famously beating Scotland 3-0 at home) and drew another to claim ten points – their best points haul from a qualification campaign in European football. In addition, despite being the lowest-ranked team in their difficult looking 2022 World Cup group, they have initially performed well by having impressed during their 2-0 defeat to France and then gaining a creditable 1-1 away draw against Ukraine. Currently, Kazakhstan are also in third-tier of the UEFA Nations League although they are in threat of being relegated to the fourth-tier having finished bottom of their League C group. The Hawks must play against Moldova in a scheduled two-legged playoff in spring 2022, with the winner maintaining their position in the League C whilst the loser is demoted to League D for the next edition of the Nations League.
Talking about a side who made the switch to UEFA from the AFC in 2002 and are the most easterly side within the UEFA confederation, is the excellent Kazakhstan Football. It is an English language Twitter account which reports on all things involving football within Kazakhstan, whether it is news from the domestic leagues, its players playing abroad, or the national teams themselves, it is all covered by Kazakhstan Football. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @KazakhstanF
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
Samat Smakov – Our most capped player with 76 caps, and has played most of his career in Kazakhstan after a brief stint in Russia. He has won six domestic league titles with four different clubs which is unprecedented. Three of these came with Aktobe and then one each for Kairat, Irtysh-Bastau and Yelimay. He never pulled out of any squads and always represented the country so well. He was a warrior and an icon.
In terms of a manager that’s a tough one as no manger has ever lasted for more than a few years at best. Dutch coach Arno Pijpers did well under tough circumstances from 2005-2008, whilst Czech manager Michal Bílek will always be remembered for the historic 3-0 win over Scotland in March 2019. A lot of different managers who have all tried to shape the team in some way or another but we need stability in terms of a long term manager.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Dmitri Shomko is definitely regarded as a fans favourite having enjoyed so much success domestically and had some brilliant performances for the national team. He played for many years at Astana before moving to Russia with Rotor Volgograd at the start of this year. A brilliant left-back who deserves to have played at a much higher level. Samat Smakov absolutely fits that title as well.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Kazakhstani national side currently?
Baktiyar Zaynutdinov – A brilliant young midfielder [22 years old] currently at CSKA Moscow with lots of potential.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Average. We have the players capable of achieving much better results on a consistent basis. We have had some good results and performances recently. Our last game where we got a 1-1 draw versus Ukraine [in the 2022 World Cup qualifying] was such an unlikely point and we played very well in the first half at home to France [ultimately losing 2-0]. The 3-0 win over Scotland two years ago shows what we’re capable of but there have been a lot of disappointing results too. We’re improving as a nation but at a much slower rate than should be the case.
Q. Are there any Kazakh players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
Mikael Askarov is a very exciting 18 year old left-back. He is currently playing at Fenerbahçe in Turkey so the next few years are vital to see how he progresses. He has all the tools needed to progress to first team football soon and will be the long term successor to Dmitri Shomko for the national team.
Maksim Samorodov is another 18 year old who has just broken into the full senior side and is showing a lot of promise as a striker at Akobe.
Q. Looking at Kazakhstan’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
By a distance it was our 3-0 win over Scotland in 2019 during the Euro 2020 qualifiers. We were 2-0 up inside 10 minutes and won the game 3-0. We just blew them away. Their performance was mocked in their media but we never got the credit we deserved. That definitely ticks the box of best result and performance.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Our 1-1 draw away in Andorra in the UEFA Nations League in 2018. We had a genuine chance of getting through the Nations League to get to Euro 2020 but we drew 1-1 in one of our worst performances of all time.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Kazakhstani national team?
Best – the unity of the fans in their support for the team. Despite club rivalries, everybody unanimously supports the national team and creates a great atmosphere in the stadiums.
Worst – the fact that the games are always played in the capital. It would be nice if we could spread out some of our fixtures to other parts of the country to allow fans from other regions to attend.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
Nothing iconic as such but we have lots of players chants during the matches and sing the national anthem in the stands. We can create a very hostile atmosphere for the away fans.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
Most of the shirts have tended to be quite similar. I do like the Euro 2020 qualification one and it always brings back memories of the 3-0 win over Scotland, so that’s definitely my favourite.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Kazakhstan national team?
To keep making progress year after year, to keep a manager in place long term, and ultimately to get close to qualifying for a major tournament.
A massive көп рақмет to Kazakhstan Football for answering our questions on the Hawks. Remember you can find their excellent accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.