European Championship Qualification: Kazakhstan vs Scotland – Thursday, March 21, 2019
Matchup at a Glance
When: Thursday, March 21, 2019, at 11:00 AM
Where: Astana Arena, Astana, Kazakhstan.
Odds: Kazakhstan +340, Draw +215, Scotland -120 @ Intertops
Only two days after the long-serving Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev surprisingly announced his resignation, the Kazakhstan national soccer team will take on a rejuvenated Scotland side.
Both sides will kick-off the competition in the 2020 UEFA European Championship Qualification on Thursday, 21 March 2019, when they face off at Astana Arena in the Kazakh capital.
Kazakhstan finished second in their UEFA Nations League group (League D), winning just one of all six games and remaining ten points behind group winners Georgia.
This probably influenced the decision of former head coach Stanimir Stoilov to quit his job (by mutual agreement) earlier this year after some disappointing results against unpretentious sides like Latvia and Andorra, as well as the two defeats to Georgia, so the newly appointed Czech coach Michal Bilek will have to settle quickly.
Scotland, on the other hand, did excellent in their UEFA Nations League (League C) campaign where the Scots triumphed in a tied race with Israel and Albania. In addition to their promotion to Group B of the UEFA Nations League, Alex McLeish's men won another opportunity to chase their first European Championship appearance since Euro 1996, even if they fail to make it through the regular qualifiers.
Head-to-Head Stats (H2H)
Scotland will fly nearly 4000 miles to Astana for their first ever encounter against the national soccer team of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan – Team News
Michal Bilek was appointed just two months ago and the experienced coach will have a difficult task to lead Kazakhstan against strong opponents like Scotland, Russia and the main favorites Belgium in their first three official games.
The 53-years-old Czech already made his debut when The Hawks beat 1-0 Moldova in a friendly match one month ago, but the real challenge is yet to come. However, despite the low-quality opposition, such a match was helpful for the Czech who used it as an opportunity to meet the squad.
Whereas former coach Stanimir Stoilov spent several years in Kazakhstan before his national team appointment, Michal Bilek comes from a completely different environment. Although he already led the Czech Republic national team for nearly four years (2009-2013) and reached the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, almost all of his career is bound to his homeland and a few domestic clubs.
Kazakhstan is surely a challenging appointment but Bilek looks to open a new chapter of his career and we know that despite the obvious lack of individual quality within a squad almost entirely based on domestic league players (only three of them play abroad, with just one playing in Western Europe – Alexander Merkel from Dutch Heracles Almelo), the Hawks are keen to leave a mark on the international scene.
Moreover, the Kazakhstan Football Federation invested a lot of money over the past years and after a breakthrough on club level, the Kazakhs are eager to record some remarkable results with the national team.
Scotland – Team News
While Kazakhstan are an enigma to most of us, Scotland looked inspired over the course of their UEFA Nations League victory and Alex McLeish hopes to see more of these performances in the European Championship qualifiers.
Nevertheless, while the whole nation is waiting Scotland's first international breakthrough since the 1998 World Cup, an experienced personality like Alex McLeish, who played in three consecutive World Cups with Scotland in 1982, 1986 and 1990, and is the third most capped national team player, realizes that his players must build on the latest results.
Under McLeish's guidance, the Tartan Army produced some impressive performances in the UEFA Nations League to keep their two pathways to the 2020 European Championship open as they managed to finish top of their Division C group above both Israel and Albania, collecting nine points from 12 possible.
Unfortunately, Scotland will head to Kazakhstan without their captain Andy Robertson as the Liverpool left-back will likely return for the next qualifier against San Marino due to a dental issue. Kieran Tierney should replace Robertson at left-back, whose absence leaves McLeish with only one player who has more than 20 international caps – James Forrest with 28.
Important updates: Kieran Tierney will miss Scotland's opening Euro 2020 qualifier in Kazakhstan with a hip problem. Celtic left-back was expected to replace captain Andrew Robertson, but has not trained this week. His Celtic teammate Callum McGregor will now captain the squad.
Latest reports also suggest that potential wing-back candidates Ryan Fraser and Callum Paterson will not be involved due to concerns over the artificial surface in Astana. Under these circumstances, Aberdeen's captain Graeme Shinnie is likely to start at left-back, while Liam Palmer could start at right-back.
In fact, with the retirement of Allan McGregor and the absence of other experienced (or relatively experienced) figures like Craig Gordon, Charlie Mulgrew, Barry Bannan, Robert Snodgrass, Matt Ritchie, Steven Naismith, Leigh Griffiths and Steven Fletcher (most of them not called up at all), the majority of current Scotland players have less than 10 international appearances.
James Forrest is admittedly the man to watch in this Scotland selection right now. The 27-years-old Celtic winger is not only enjoying his most prolific season for the Bhoys with 13 goals to his name so far this term. Furthermore, Forrest has been in superb form for his country lately, netting five goals in his last two outings, including a hat-trick for the crucial 3-2 win over Israel in November. Anyway, we shouldn't underestimate the potential impact of some Premier League players like Ryan Fraser and Stuart Armstrong, as well as Oliver McBurnie who is Swansea City's top scorer with 16 goals in the 2018-19 EFL Championship.
Possible Starting Lineups of Kazakhstan and Scotland
Kazakhstan: Stas Pokatilov – Abzal Beysebekov, Yuri Logvinenko, Sergey Maliy, Gafurzhan Suyumbaev – Alexander Merkel, Islambek Kuat – Roman Murtazayev, Bauyrzhan Islamkhan, Serikzhan Muzhikov – Aleksey Shchetkin. (4-2-3-1)
Scotland: Scott Bain – Graeme Shinnie, David Bates, Scott McKenna, Liam Palmer – Scott McTominay, Stuart Armstrong – Oliver Burke, Callum McGregor, James Forrest – Oliver McBurnie. (4-2-3-1)
Having been drawn in what seems to be a highly competitive group, the Scots will be desperate to get off to the best possible start but the lack of experience can eventually be of considerable importance here. Besides, the heavy workload in British football (no winter break) and the long trip to Kazakhstan are two other factors which can contribute to potential fatigue in the away side in some part of the game.
The cold weather in Astana is an additional reason why we probably won't witness many soccer arguments on the field, rather a strong battle, but Scotland is not a country known for its good weather so both sides should be prepared for the heavy winter circumstances, even though Astana Arena has a retractable roof.
Although bookies are backing this rejuvenated Scotland side to win in Astana (rated -120 at Intertops), we think that the Hawks are a tough nut to crack in front of their own supporters and they won't lose despite Scotland's confidence boost after the successful UEFA Nations League debut.