Did you know that the word ‘Kazakh’ comes from the ancient Turkic word ‘qaz’ which means ‘to wander’? Why, of course you did. And what does Kazakhstan literally translate to? That’s right. The land of the wanderers. The Scotland defence should feel at home then.

This vast, transcontinental nation is characterised by its terrain of flatlands, steppe, rock canyons, deltas, snow-capped mountains, deserts and an artificial pitch. Yes, the pesky plastic in the Astana Arena has already given Scotland some problems with both Ryan Fraser and Callum Paterson unable to play on that particular surface.

The 30,000 seater stadium cost some $186 million and incorporates a design that “introduces innovative solutions adopting high technology principles for operational management and interaction with the environment, especially with harsh climatic conditions of the geography.” It sounds just like the SFA offices at Hampden.


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It could be a treacherous test for the Scots in this opening Euro 2020 qualifer. Kazakhstan’s head coach is Michal Bilek, the former Czech Republic manager, who once described Scotland’s tactical approach during a meeting between the two sides as “unpleasant.” The Tartan Army, meanwhile, used the more erudite phrase “utter s***e” to describe the Scottish approach. Bilek was in charge when Craig Levein infamously employed his devastating 4-6-0 formation in a Euro 2012 qualifier in Prague back in 2010.

"I don't think we'll face a side without a striker,” chortled a disbelieving Bilek in the pre-match press conference ahead of that game when informed of Scotland’s potential defensive approach. Oh, how we laughed eh?

Fitba first arrived in Kazakhstan before World War 1, when British merchants brought the game to the area. By the 1930s, Kazakh club sides were appearing in the lower reaches of the Soviet game before a regular league was established in 1946. FC Kairat Almaty would make history in 1960 by becoming the first Kazakh side to compete in the Soviet Top League and went on to record Kazakhstan's first triumph in the Soviet First League – the second division - in 1976.


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After the fall of the Soviet Union, a Football Association of the Republic of Kazakhstan was set up in 1992 and soon accepted into FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation. The Kazakhstan national team made their official debut June 1 1992 and celebrated the occasion with a 1-0 win over Turkmenistan.

Celtic fans, of course, will be well aware of certain Kazakh club teams. In 2017, the Scottish champions qualified for the Champions League after a chaotic 8-4 aggregate win over FC Astana while a few years earlier the Glasgow club overcame a 2-0 first leg deficit to beat Shakhter Karagandy 3-2. Shakhter got into bother prior to the first leg of that match when they slaughtered a sheep at the Astana Arena the day before the encounter as part of an old ritual. Funnily enough, Celtic often used to do that when Aberdeen came to Glasgow. Let’s hope Scotland are not lambs to the slaughter in Astana this week …