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Caspian Football Teams Inch Closer To UEFA Champions League Play-Offs

By Ilham Karimli July 27, 2017

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Astana FC wins Legia Warsaw 3-1 in Astana Arena on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 / Astana FC Official Website

The Astana football (soccer) club, representing Kazakhstan, clinched a 3-1 victory over Poland’s Legia Warsaw on Wednesday in the first match of the third qualifying round of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) 2017-2018 Champions League.

Goals by Junior Cabananga, Ivan Maevskiy and Patrick Twumasi brought the Kazakhstani team an important home game win, which was played at the 30,000 seat Astana Arena stadium in Kazakhstan’s capital city.

"[That was] a good victory for our team. We showed an excellent game, good football. But I know that this is only 50 percent of our work,” said Astana’s head coach Satanimir Stoilov in a post-match press conference on Wednesday.

A return match between Astana and Legia will be held on August 2 in Poland at Meiski stadium in Krakow.

“We know that in the second game there will be a lot of pressure on our team,” Stoilov said. “I want us to play confidently and in an organized manner.” 

In the event of eliminating Legia Warsaw, Astana will get through the playoff round, where a total of 20 clubs will split into ten pairs in a draw to be held on August 4 in Nyon, Switzerland.

The 2017–18 UEFA Champions League qualifying games are well underway, and will wrap up by August 23. From September through May 2018, the Champions League competition will take place, and culminate in the Final match, to be played May 26 at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine. The winners of that game will earn the right to play against the 2017–18 UEFA Europa League winners in the 2018 UEFA Super Cup. They will also qualify to compete in the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup as the UEFA representative.

The Astana Football Club is one of the few professional football teams in Kazakhstan that has represented the country in European football. First founded as Lokomotiv Astana in 2009, the club was renamed “Astana” in 2011. 

The club boasts three league titles, three Kazakhstan Cups and two Kazakhstan Super Cups. In 2015, for the first time in Kazakhstan’s football history, Astana qualified to compete in the UEFA Champions League group stage. This achievement was widely seen as the biggest success for Kazakhstani football. 

The club is currently sitting on the top spot of the Kazakhstan Premier League, with 51 points and ahead of the number two placeholder, Kairat, by seven points.

Astana faced off twice against Latvia’s Spartaks Jūrmala team during the Champions League second qualifying round, winning 1-0 on July 12 and tying 1-1 on July 18.

As for other teams from the Caspian region, Russia’s Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow teams, as well as Azerbaijan’s Qarabag club, are competing in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers.

Spartak Moscow has already qualified to the group stage as the Russian Premier League champions of the 2016-17 season. CSKA Moscow is currently fighting for group stage qualification in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League games, and defeated Greek AEK Athens 2:0 in the first leg on Tuesday. The second match will take place in Moscow on August 2.

For its part, Qarabag played against Moldova’s Sheriff Tiraspol in Baku on Tuesday, in a game that ended 0:0. The two teams will face off again on August 1, in Moldova.

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