A Kazakh Adventure

Kazakhstan. A country unknown to many, and one that would have been unknown to many more were if not for the film about its allegedly most famous son Borat Sagdaev. A country famous for a weird, peasant-like people, bizarre public rituals and the export of apples and potassium, for which it is the world leader. Jagshemash!

Well, while Kazakhstan is indeed famous for its apples – it’s old capital Almaty literally means “place of apples” – it is more well known for its oil production than its rivalry with neighbouring countries over the export of potassium – though admittedly they are not that keen on the folks next door in Uzbekistan.

Today’s match does see plenty of weirdness however, which may come as something of a shock to the German side that beat Turkey in the relative comforts of Berlin. First there is the location itself in Astana – UEFA’s easternmost outpost – which is five hours ahead of Western Europe, a stone’s throw away from China. Then there is an artificial pitch. Then there is the crazy kick-off time, something that has clearly been dictated by the media back in Germany that sees the fixture as a prime-time event. Remember – the eastern region of Kazakhstan is five hours ahead of Germany, and six hours ahead of GMT. The result of all this is that the match is due to kick off at 11pm local time, which means that it will finish in the small hours of Wednesday morning.

Let’s run by that again. 11pm kickoff. On an artificial pitch. Crazy? Maybe. but then again, as Borat might well say, it’s nice! The upside is that unlike many stadiums in these less-heralded footballing nations, the Turkish-designed Astana-Arena is a sparkling example of modern technology – it even has a retractable roof.

In terms of team news… The squad did a spot of night-time training yesterday to get used to the conditions, and Mesut Özil seems to have passed his fitness test. The squad looks as though it is going to be the same at the one that started against Turkey, though there is some talk that the very rusty Lukas Podolski – who missed a sitter on Friday – may be benched in favour of Marko Marin. In fact, I would probably start with Marin:

Neuer – Lahm, Mertesacker, Badstuber, Westermann – Khedira, Kroos – T. Müller, Özil, Marin/Podolski – Klose

Germany are expected to win this match – the only question seems to be how many goals they will score. The truth is that the conditions may well prove to be challenging, and the mission should be to settle as quickly as possible. Kazakhstan – coached by German Bernd Storck – will no doubt put all ten men behind the ball in the hope to getting something out of the game; it is up to Jogi Löw’s side to be patient and not try too hard to create that first opening. The Kazakhs were well beaten 3-0 on their home patch by Turkey, but took Austria right down to the wire in Salzburg – conceding two goals only in injury time – and managed to keep a clean sheet in the first half of their latest game against Belgium before conceding two.

Germany have scored ten goals in their three games so far and conceded one; Kazakhstan have conceded seven while not bothering the scoreboard operators themselves. If Kazakhstan’s defensive gameplan works, it could be a frustrating night; however if the Mannschaft strike early and impose themselves on the game, it could very well turn into a rout.

A Kazakh Adventure
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