Lampooned in the hit film Borat as backward, racist and misogynist, Kazakhstan will look to their soccer players to recover national pride when they face England in a World Cup qualifier tomorrow.
The sprawling, central Asian republic, which has only been an independent country since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, is determined to make an impact on the soccer world despite its modest record.
During the Soviet era Kazakhstan was never famous for its soccer achievements but rather for producing stars for the Soviet national squads in cycling, boxing, weightlifting and gymnastics.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan soccer’s ruling body became a member of the Asian Football Confederation in 1994 and made a debut appearance in the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Kazakhstan finished top of their pre-qualifying group ahead of Iraq and Pakistan but in the deciding stages they were rock bottom.
In their second qualifying attempt for the 2002 World Cup, Kazakhstan finished their second qualifying round group level on points but behind winners Iraq on goal difference.
In 2004 Kazakhstan, despite being located mostly in central Asia, was affiliated with European soccer’s governing body UEFA.
But the new Europeans had a disastrous campaign in trying to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals, gaining just one point from a possible 36.
The Kazakhstan soccer association has become impatient with failure.
Dutch coach Arno Pijpers was sacked last month after a 3-0 away defeat at Croatia and a 3-1 loss at home to Ukraine in the qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup.
Kazakhstan soccer association secretary-general Sayan Khamitzhanov said: “How long we should endure it? We in the federation are ashamed of the existing situation and we all must apologize to the country’s fans for it.”
Germany’s Berndt Stork, brought in as interim coach, has left several veterans out of his selection for the game in London.
The country’s top goalkeeper, David Loria, and attacking midfielder Nurbol Zhumaskaliev will miss the match along with Dynamo Moscow midfielder Andrei Karpovich.
Stork, who is also Kazakhstan’s under-21 team coach, has called up 10 rookies.
But the coach faces deep-lying problems with Kazakh soccer.
Kazakhstan Soviet era flagship club Kairat Almaty is now a pale shadow of its former self.
The former capital’s central 26,000-seat venue, which Kairat share with two other Almaty clubs, is rarely sold out for the national team’s matches, while their domestic league games usually attract just a few thousand fans.
Kazakhstan Premiership leaders Aktobe — the richest side with an annual budget of US$13 million — are also one of the most popular.
Tobyl Kostanai and Shakhter Karaganda are also in the trio of the league’s wealthiest clubs with their US$10 million budgets.
Kazakhstan players earn just a few thousand dollars a month.
Aktobe full-back Samat Smakov is the league’s best-paid player with a US$300,000 contract.
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