Early Doors

Kazakhstan confidential

Early Doors

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We all know there are not meant to be easy games in international football any more. We all also know that's absolute bunkum.

There are still easy games and Kazakhstan at home is one of them.

Kazakhstan are officially worse than New Caledonia and Equatorial Guinea. They have nobody of note - not even a Kinkladze or a Hleb - and have had to travel 3,500 miles, across about 15 time zones, to get here.

Basically, they are a League Two side with jet lag. If that's not an easy game, then Early Doors doesn't know what is. Except Spurs away.

And yet Early Doors feels slightly bad that we know so little about our visitors; that the whole public image of Kazakhstan comes from a fictional comedy creation.

So ED thought it would do some shaky research to compile a little fact sheet.


1-Who they are

No wonder Sacha Baron Cohen chose Kazakhstan as Borat's country of origin. The country is a completely blank canvas about which nobody knows anything.

There are 15 million of them - so why has nobody ever heard of a Kazakh? The short answer is that none of them ever seem to do anything.

Seriously. Look at this list of notable Kazakhs and point to the famous people. Although it's nice to see a special sub-section for Freedom Heroes.

It would seem that the biggest cheeses among that rag bag are Rayimbek, 18th-century Kazakh warrior, and Abay Kunanbayev, 19th-century poet, composer and educator.

No Kazakh has ever worn a mankini, although they do like to consume horses and equine products. Their national dish is noodles with horse meat, washed down with fermented horse milk.

2-Where it is

Given it status as the world's ninth largest country, Kazakhstan certainly keeps a low profile. Even armed with the knowledge that it's absolutely massive, most people would struggle to point it out on a map.

What is certainly true is that it isn't in Europe.

Places that the Kazakh capital Astana is further east than include Kabul, Karachi, the whole of Iran and the Arabian peninsula. The country shares over 1,000 miles of border with China, and in the far eastern region anyone with a good arm can lob stones into Mongolia.

More damningly, Kazakhstan has never even entered the Eurovision Song Contest, a competition with such a generous interpretation of Europe's borders that it once accepted an entry from Morocco.

3-Why they are playing England

A couple of years Australia decided they'd prefer to come from Asia rather than their own continent, and switched federations.

Kazakhstan did something similar in 2002, but instead opted to dump Asia for the suave, sophisticated charms of the European section.

Following their switch to UEFA, they were rewarded for their treachery by landing in a nightmare World Cup qualifying group that was both extremely difficult and completely devoid of glamour, featuring as it did Ukraine, Turkey, Denmark, Greece, Albania and Georgia. The Kazakhs picked up a solitary point from 12 matches (Georgia away).

All this continent-swapping can only end in tears, as it is only a matter of time until Wales, in a desperate bid to reach their first World Cup since 1958, apply to join Oceania.

4-Who their danger men are

With their dismal start to their career as professional Europeans, it is tempting to say nobody is a danger man. But they won two matches, one against Serbia, in Euro 2008 qualifying so they aren't total chumps. Plus they kept the goals against column down to a respectable 21 from 14 games (San Marino shipped 57 in two fewer games).

Twenty-two-year-old striker Sergei Ostapenko is useful, although his international strike rate - four goals from 16 caps - is only slightly better than Emile Heskey's.

Midfielder Ruslan Baltiev has been in the side 11 years and has 67 caps. That doesn't make him good, of course, just durable.

Dynamo Moscow midfielder Andrei Karpovich is the only member of the current squad who plays outside Kazakhstan.

5-Why they are so good at cycling

Actually, we probably do know this. The mighty Astana cycling team's former members include Kazakhs Alexandre Vinokourov (drug cheat) and Andrey Kashechkin (drug cheat) - both of whom have been sacked. Astana were banned from the 2008 Tour de France over suspicions that their riders were waist-deep in vials of refrigerated blood.

They have since been restored and the current roster features eight Kazakhs and one Lance Armstrong - just about the last man left in cycling who has never tested positive for anything. Oddly, the French continue to attack Armstrong with tremendous fervour even though he's the only thing giving their stinking, rotten, pointless sport any credibility. But Early Doors digresses.

If Tony Hawks ever makes a follow-up to his whimsical book Playing The Moldovans At Tennis, in which he played the Moldovan football team at tennis, he would do well not to call it Playing The Kazakhs At Cycling.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I'm in a difficult situation at Wigan and not getting on well with Steve Bruce at the moment. We will see how long this state of affairs goes on for. He said I shouldn't play against France last month, but I did and he seems to be resentful towards me." Washing his dirty laundry in public will almost certainly help Paul Scharner patch up his differences with Steve Bruce.

FOREIGN VIEW: Croatian schoolchildren could soon be taught how to behave like good sports fans in an attempt to stamp out the hooliganism and racism that have marred the country's image in recent years. The initiative, the brainchild of a teacher, has been devised to coincide with the world handball championships that Croatia hosts in January but the primary targets are football fans, known for violent behaviour, racist abuse and clashing with police at home and abroad.

COMING UP: If it hasn't been called the Battle of Britain yet, it has now. England's Under-21s take on Wales this evening in a European Championship playoff. You can follow it right here from 19:45 UK time.


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