Kaza­khstan

World Soccer - - European Season Review -

Owned and fi­nanced by the govern­ment, As­tana live on a dif­fer­ent planet to their do­mes­tic com­peti­tors and claimed their fifth con­sec­u­tive ti­tle, de­spite hav­ing a care­taker coach, in Grig­ori Babayan, for much of the cam­paign. Cup spe­cial­ists Kairat suc­cess­fully re­tained the tro­phy, beat­ing Atyrau 1-0 in the Fi­nal. The un­ex­pected hero of the hour was full-back Alek­sandr Sokolenko, who popped up with an all-toorare goal on 15 min­utes. Aim­ing for a sec­ond ap­pear­ance in the Champions League group phase, As­tana will start in the first qual­i­fy­ing round of the com­pe­ti­tion. Kairat, Tobol and Ord­abasy will take part in the Europa League elim­i­na­tors.

Ky­zlzhar, who came up the pre­vi­ous sea­son, and bot­tom-place Akzhayik were sent back down to the mi­nors. Step­ping into their shoes will be sec­ond-tier champions Okzhet­pes and run­ners-up Taraz. Week in and week out, winger Marin To­masov was a de­ci­sive fig­ure for As­tana, as pro­duc­tive in his fin­ish­ing as his cre­ative work. Orig­i­nally on loan from Ri­jeka, the 31-yearold Croat signed a per­ma­nent deal in July. Dmitry Ogai, a Kazakh of Korean lineage, did a fine job of keep­ing the rel­e­ga­tion wolf from the door for top-flight new boys Zhetysu. Their midtable fin­ish sur­passed all ex­pec­ta­tions. Kairat cen­tre-back Nu­raly Alip is quite a prospect. Turn­ing 19 in De­cem­ber, he plays with the poise and the as­sur­ance of a vet­eran. Had com­pleted just two first-team games when handed his first full cap for Kaza­khstan in March.

De­ci­sive... Marin To­masov

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