FC Astana

Weekend Guide 3.4.15

Every weekend, Three games, All the information.

Another week is over and it´s time to prepare for some good football as always. This week, we will visit Palestine for the first time and take a closer look at the hot derby of Hebron, we will be once again in Mexico and try to understand the unusual system of the league. In addition, we will check the development of Kazakhi football. Ready? Come on!

(All the hours are in CET local time)

Friday, 1800, Shabab Al-Khalil – Ahli Al-Khalil (West Bank Premier League)
Last January we met the Palestinian national team waving the flag and the national pride during the 2015 Asian Cup. Three months later, we’re visiting the West Bank’s league and the amazing atmosphere of the local crowd at Hussein bin Ali stadium, in the derby of Al-Khalil, or at its English name, Hebron. 

Shabab Al-Khalil is one of the biggest clubs in Palestine. They won several championships and cups, and their last title was the Palestinian Cup in 2013. They are also one of the richest clubs in the league thanks to their chairman, Khadr Qawasmi, a local businessman. The coach is the Polish Andrzej Wiśniewski, who was the Palestinian National Team´s coach in 2002, and from 2010 is the manager of Shabab. He will be absent from this particular match from unclear reasons. Watch out for the striker Fahed Attal, the all-time leading top scorer of the Palestinian national team with 14 international goals, the midfielder Mohannad Fanon, who considered as one of the biggest hopes of the Palestinian football, and the striker Mohammed Al-Karaki, who played during last week´s U-23 Asian Championships qualifiers with the national team.

Ahli Al-Khalil is much smaller club, but still making impressive results during past years. Since they promoted to the West Bank Premier League in 2012, they became an important club in the competition. This season they reached a new peak when they qualified to Palestinian Cup semifinals. The club holds also a foreign coach, the Italian Stefano Cusin, who was the assistant manager of Walter Zenga in several Middle Eastern clubs. The main players are Ahmed Maher, who played 11 times for the national team and was part from the Asian Cup squad, Khaldon Elhalman, the leading scorer of the team, Fadi Dweik, the veteran captain, and Wael Merasat, one of the biggest names which joined the league from Israel.

Middle Eastern high profile derby it is something that you'll never want to miss. Let´s hope for a good game and atmosphere, like in the previous round.

Many thanks to Mahmoud Abu Obeid from Koora Palestine for the information for this piece.

Sunday, 0100, Puebla – Toluca (Liga MX)

Few weeks ago we visited Mexico for a great clash for the top playoff spots. Now we will make it bit complicated. As explained, the top eight teams in the end of the regular season will qualify for the playoffs, but there is an exception – the team who will relegate in the end of the season, is the one of the top eight, their spot will be passed to the 9th placed team. The relegation is decided by the average of points per game, on the last three seasons and just one team is relegated.

This long introduction is about Puebla. After a few bad years in the bottom places of the league, Puebla has a chance to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 Apertura. Puebla is in the last place of the relegation ranking, which means that they won't make this history, even though they ranked in the 8th place. One of the heroes of the Mexican football, Cuauhtémoc Blanco is 42 and he is one of the team´stars. He plays alongside to Luis Noriega, who played during Puebla's last title in 2006, and Matías Alustiza, club´s leading scorer who was the Copa Libertadores top scorer in 2012 tied with Neymar.

Toluca wants to clinch their playoff spot. As they ranked in the 9th place, they still can qualify even from this place, but they will try to improve their positions. The race for the playoffs is close, and there is difference of just 4 points between them and the 4th place. Toluca's manager, José Cardozo, a club legend, has an impressive record as a player in the team – Four championships, CONCACAF Champions' Cup and he is the all-time top scorer of the club. Another Paraguyan, Paulo da Silva, who already played for 6 years in Toluca, left the team for playing in Sunderland and Zaragoza, returned to the team in 2013. Watch out for Víctor Montaño, who played for a decade in France, and Marco Bueno, who won the World Cup with the U-17 team of Mexico.

Weird rules and system, an opponent that want to win, and Puebla that have two options for that match – playoff spot or relegation spot. By BabaGol and Yosport’s standards, this game is a must.

Sunday, 1200, FC Astana – Aktobe (Kazakhstan Premier League)

Since Kazakhstan left AFC and joined UEFA in 2002, the Kazakhs try to be a genuine part of the European football. The national team is still far from this goal, but the local clubs are making great development. On Sunday, two of these clubs will meet, FC Astana and Aktobe.

FC Astana is a newly formed team with a lot of money. The team is part from an organization called Astana Presidential Sports Club, who includes also a basketball and ice hockey teams, and even a pro road cycling team. The manager of the team is Stanimir Stoilov, who reached the Champions League’s group stage and UEFA Cup quarterfinals with Levski Sofia. Last year, he led Astana for its first title in history. This season, after 4 games they lead the table and hope to win it once again. The key players are Roger Cañas, the Colombian who scored 3 league goals until now, Ulan Konysbayev, who made 23 appearances in Kazakhstan national team, and Foxi Kéthévoama, who was the league’s top scorer last season.

Their rivals, Aktobe, have experienced many successful moments in the past few seasons. Since 2005, they always finished in the top three, and won five championships. Now, they’re ranked 5th, four points from Astana, but they haven't lost yet. The team managed by Vladimir Gazzaev, the son of one of the biggest managers in the Russian football, Valery Gazzaev. Keep your eyes on Yuri Logvinenko, the player who made the most league appearances for Aktobe, Marcos Pizzelli, a Brazilian player who settled in Armenia and played 39 times for their national team, and Sergey Khizhnichenko, 23 years old young talent who came back after one season in the Polish league.

The Kazakh football is constantly develop and improve. Watching a great match from its domestic league will be worth it.