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Kazakh competitive cheerleading gaining recognition abroad


ASTANA – Kazakhstan’s cheerleading achievements are mounting and the sport is developing in the country, President of the country’s Federation Union of Cheerleading and Cheer Sport (KUC) Ruslan Mammadov told The Astana Times.

Cheerleading and Cheer Sport team at the World Championship 2017, Orlando.

Last year was a breakthrough year for Kazakhstan in cheerleading at the international level. A Kazakh team became the first among Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries to win a gold medal in the U.S., the homeland of cheerleading, in the International Cheerleading Union (ICU) World Championship.

Kazakhstan’s cheerleading team also took the bronze at the Asia Championship in Japan and returned with silver medals from the South Korean World Beach Cheerleading Open Masters. Kazakhstan’s athletes have gained experience at international competitions as an ICU member since 2009.

Cheerleading and Cheer Sport  team at EXPO 2017, Astana.

Cheerleading and Cheer Sport team at EXPO 2017, Astana.

Mammadov said about 3,500 Kazakhs are involved in cheerleading, with 90 percent of those female. That ratio reflects cheerleading generally around the world. Boys join cheerleading classes after watching practices and realising that cheerleading is not just a dance, it needs physical strength, he added.

“Traditionally, cheerleading includes pyramids, tumbling and dance as well as shouting cheers to support hockey or basketball players,” explained Mammadov. “However, Kazakh teams do their best in dance performances rather than in traditional styles, as hip-hop culture is developed in the country. They also have good results in … performances with pompoms, and mixed performances with sportsmen.”

Kazakhstan’s Union of Cheerleading takes on the role of mediator and adviser, organising championships and master classes in 13 regions of the country. The federation demands coaches follow the federation’s rules and standards of cheerleading. While athletes prepare their shows individually, showcasing their strengths, there are mandatory elements: the appearance of the girls, the presence of pompoms, costumes, acrobatic elements, and support and position rebuilding.

Ruslan Mammadov (C)

Ruslan Mammadov (C)

According to the KUC president, teams chosen as participants in championships demonstrated Kazakh culture, inserting national ornaments on costumes and performing to music with elements of Kazakhstan’s traditional string instrument, the dombra, and Kazakh songs. ICU judges found this exotic and fresh, especially in recent performances in Japan.

Mammadov thinks cheerleading is good for complex education especially at school because it has elements of acrobatics, gymnastics and sports dance, and teaches emotional management. When the match of the century takes place, the cheerleading team upholds and motivates sportsmen as well as entertains spectators, engaging them to express support. And despite not having a long history in the country, cheerleading is developing.

Experienced coach and judge Olga Kurakina, Mammadov says, is the first voice of cheerleading in Kazakhstan. Her followers who study abroad teach in the U.S. and others from Eurasian and Nazarbayev Universities recommended themselves as good trainers.

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“The U.S. Embassy pays attention to cheerleading development in Kazakhstan. They enjoyed our presentation at the embassy and even came to watch the practice. Our athletes easily can get visas to the United States when there are championships,” he said, confirming the participation of Kazakhstan in the 2018 ICU World Championship in Florida.

This year, KUC also intends to defend its leading position, preparing a performance for World University Cheerleading competition in October in Poland.

The federation generally invites coaches from Russia, because there is no language barrier to overcome with them. However, this year the ICU is going to send foreign trainers to explain how to judge and what it is important to practice. Kazakh trainers in turn conduct master classes for cheerleaders from Kyrgyzstan.

Kazakhstan’s Federation Union of Cheerleading and Cheer Sport demonstrated to the National Olympic Committee of Kazakhstan that cheerleading should be considered a sport in the country and finally got recognition certificates of a new sample last year.

The International Cheerleading Union was established in 2004 and accepted by the International Olympic Committee. It unites 105 national cheerleading federations spreading cheerleading throughout the world.



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GGG, Canelo rematch scheduled for May 5


WBC, WBA (Super), IBF and IBO middleweight champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and Saul “Canelo”Alvarez have signed a contract for another fight, according to anofficial announcement by the boxers, their representatives and promoters.

Photo credit: Turar Kazangapov

The rematch is scheduled for May 5, although the location of the match is not yet determined. The day was chosen for a reason, as Cinco de Mayo is one of Mexico’s main national holidays, according to organisers.

The first Golovkin vs. Alvarez fight, held Sept. 16 in Las Vegas, ended in a draw. The Kazakh boxer retained all his titles, but broke his streak of 37 consecutive wins. The outcome caused controversy, however, since most fans thought Golovkin deserved the victory, and one of the three judges of the match, who gave victory to Canelo, was later suspended from judging major bouts. Now, the two boxers will have another chance to show who is stronger.

Alvarez has indicated he is going to knock out Golovkin, leaving him no excuse in the face of the judges, to which GGG tweeted, “You’re right. This time, we will not need the judges.”

Golovkin added he is glad to have another chance to meet Alvarez in the ring.

“I’m ready to fight Canelo again and I’m happy this bout will take place. It’s a fight the world wants to see. This is the boxing I’m worthy of. I didn’t agree with the opinions of some judges in the first fight. However, this time there will be no doubt. I’m going to leave the ring as a middleweight champion,” he said.

Golden Boy Promotions General Director Oscar de la Hoya, which represents  Alvarez, also weighed in, according to Boxingscene.com.

“The Canelo vs. GGG rematch will be the biggest event in boxing and the best event of 2018. The two elite boxers will face each other again to find out who is the best middleweight in the world. I expect the rematch to be even more intense, as both fighters know that this time much more is at stake,” he said.



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Deaflympics encourages Almaty to apply to host 2019 Winter games


ASTANA – The Head of International Committee of Sports for the Deaf Valery Rukhledev recently visited Almaty and encouraged Kazakhstan to submit an application for Almaty to host the 2019 Winter Deaflympics.

“Almaty has not submitted its application to host Winter Deaflympics, but we would like to consider it as a candidate. We observed the sports infrastructure and were impressed by the architecture of the buildings, state-of-the-art equipment and especially by the active sports life in those facilities. In addition, we witnessed national competitions in curling and skiing, children’s training of figure skaters and hockey players, as well as mass skating and skiing. All of this, as well as the 28th World Winter Universiade held in February 2017, prove that Almaty is deservedly one of the world winter sports capitals,” said Rukhledev.

Almaty is home to 44,100 people with disabilities, including 5,000 with hearing impairment.

Rukhledev noted that the Winter Deaflympics have not been held on the Asian continent. He also mentioned potential benefits of hosting the Games, including developing urban areas and improving urban environments for people with physical challenges, including the installation of elevators, sidewalks, traffic lights, special marking and visual pointers. He also said such events generate interest in sports among people with disabilities, which helps them integrate into social life.

The Deaflympics are an international sports competetion for athletes with hearing impairment sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee. The Games were first held in 1924 in Paris. They were the first international sports event for people with disabilities and the second international sports competition after the Olympics. Ever since 1924 the Games for the deaf are held every four years with the exception of 1943 and 1947 due to the World War II and the Winter Games were introduced in 1949. Although there were only 9 countries participating in the Games in 1924, the Deaflympics now unite athletes from 113 nations.



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FC Astana loses 2-3 to Villareal at home, must win in Prague to progress in Europa League


ASTANA – FC Astana lost 2-3 to Villarreal CF Nov. 24 in the UEFA Europa League group stage match here. It was the first home defeat in the last 17 European cup matches for the reigning Kazakh champions.

Photo credit: sports.kz.

Should the team win in Prague next month and Maccabi Tel Aviv prevail over Slavia Prague, Astana could secure an advance from the group.

The Spaniards were the clear favourites ahead of the match at Astana Arena. It was no surprise that from the very first minutes the visitors attempted to dominate the pitch. As early as the 17th minute, Nicola Sansone went one on one with Astana’s goalkeeper, but Nenad Eric deflected the first strike and defender Yuri Logvinenko repelled the follow-up.

The Kazakhs gradually managed to cope with the visitor’s starting attacks and then implemented its first real scoring chance. Midfielder Patrick Twumasi won a struggle for the ball with the Spanish team’s defender and passed it to striker Junior Kabananga. The DR Congo footballer made a brilliant strike and opened the score.

Almost immediately, Villarreal midfielder Pablo Fornals took advantage of the Kazakh defence’s mistake and went one on one with Eric, but the goalkeeper saved his team again. After a long ball, Astana midfielder Abzal Beisebekov quickly sent the orb into the opponent’s penalty area and passed it to Twumasi. Against all odds, Villarreal goalkeeper Mariano Barbosa managed to repel the shot to the corner with his fingertips.

The visitors equalised the score before halftime, as midfielder Daniel Raba ran away from the defenders and beat the goalkeeper.

Substitute forward Cedric Bakambu, who scored in the first match between the teams, distinguished himself again this time, making it into the penalty area and beating Eric. A bit later, his fellow countryman took advantage of the Astana defenders uncoordinated actions and shot from the penalty line to the corner of Eric’s net, extending his team’s advantage.

Astana did not give up and continued trying to curb the deficit. Three minutes before the end of the match their efforts bore fruits. Midfielder Igor Shitov won the fight for the ball in the opponent’s penalty area and passed it to Twumasi, who made an accurate shot, setting the final score at 2-3.

As a result, Villarreal stopped Astana’s four-year unbeaten streak in European cup home games.

“It was an interesting match. Our unbeaten series is over. Still, it is a great achievement when the team does not lose 17 home games. As for the match, I would say we lacked some dynamics and speed. We made many mistakes in defence. In some moments we had to be more aggressive. Our main problem, in my opinion, was the right mindset and rhythm for the game. The players [perhaps] did not have enough desire to win,” said Astana coach Stanimir Stoilov.

“I think Villarreal deserved this win. It is a very good team. The stadium was full and I would like to thank our fans. It is a pity we could not make our fans happy today. It is difficult now to find the reasons for what happened. We had a long break, as we did not play for more than 18 days. That is why it was hard… Now, we must prepare well for our next match in Prague,” said Eric.

Slavia, Astana’s key rival for the second spot in the group, secured a 2-0 win in Israel and the Czechs now have a clear advantage ahead of their decisive home match Dec. 7 with the Kazakhs. The game is a must-win for Astana to secure its first-ever progress from the European club group stage competition.



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Stanimir Stoilov reflects on FC Astana’s 2017 success


ASTANA – FC Astana head coach Stanimir Stoilov is among those who stand behind the team’s achievements. The club, managed by the 50-year-old Bulgarian, won the national championship this year for the fourth consecutive time. No other Kazakh coach has managed the feat.

Photo credit: FC Astana’s FB page

Astana demonstrated decent play recently both in the domestic and international arenas, playing for the third year at the European club tournament group stage. Atletico Madrid, Benfica, Celtic FC, Galatasaray SK and Olympiacos are some of the serious opponents who failed to beat Astana on at least one occasion.

“I think the season was long and difficult,” said Stoilov. “How did it differ from others? It is hard to tell. Our team seems to have gained more confidence with every year. That is why it gets easier to secure wins.”

“The first season was the most challenging one,” the coach explained. “After that, the team played better. I guess our schedule has been quite busy during these years, especially in summer. We had many long trips and many great emotions. If there had not been any difficult games in Europe, we could have finished the championship earlier, but all is well that ends well. It is always hard to demand from the players to give it their all when they have such energy-intensive matches at European competitions. The guys are great. It is not easy to play with such a tight schedule, but we did it. This means we can do even more.”

Needless to say, when a coach secures great results each time he gets a lot of good offers to move to another team. Foreign newspapers write that Stoilov is one of the candidates to coach Turkish football fan favourite Fenerbahce SK. He said he had not decided on his further plans and intends to discuss it with his current club.

“I have not received any proposals yet to extend the contact with Astana. I always said that when developing the club, it is important for the management to understand which way we choose. If they need me, we will sit down and talk. If we raise the team’s class, we can achieve better results. The team needs more strong players, so sponsors need to understand it. First of all, we will talk about the team’s development,” he added.

On Nov. 23, Astana will host Spanish favourite Villarreal CF. If the Kazakh club wins the match, it will be a historic achievement, as none of the country’s football clubs has ever made it out of the Europa League group.

“We will prepare. I hope we can help the players get in the right mindset. I am very worried about this game. Villarreal is a very strong team, but everybody here expects success from us. We play well at home and I hope we will show a good game and deserve a victory this time,” said Stoilov.

The coach is counting on the support of the Kazakh fans in the home match.

“Despite the fact that it is already very cold in Astana, it will be warm at the stadium. You know that Astana has not lost a single match at home in the latest European tournaments. This is, to a large extent, thanks to our fans who always root for us. The team needs the support of its fans. We win together and we lose together. If the fans cheer for us, the team will do 120 percent,” he added.



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Kazakh national women’s volleyball team reaches world championship


ALMATY – Team Kazakhstan secured a place in the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) Women’s Volleyball World Championship next year in Japan by finishing as runners-up in the Asian qualifier Pool A finals.

Photo credit: Kazakhstan Volleyball Federation press service

Almaty’s Baluan Sholak Sports Palace hosted the tournament Sept. 20-24 involving teams from Australia, China, Chinese Taipei and Fiji. On the final day, Kazakhstan and China secured confident 3-0 victories over Fiji (25-8, 25-19, 25-14) and Chinese Taipei (25-18, 25-14, 25-10), respectively, and won the two berths to the world championship.

Kazakhstan defeated Australia 3-1 (25-15, 25-6, 22-25, 25-9) and Chinese Taipei 3-1 (25-15, 19-25, 25-19, 25-20), but lost to China 3-0 (14-25, 19-25, 15-25) in earlier matches.

China won all its games, taking first place with 12 points. Kazakhstan finished second with nine points, followed by Chinese Taipei (six points), Australia (three points) and Fiji (zero points).

“On behalf of myself and the whole team, I would like to express great gratitude to our fans. The support we received at home greatly helped us. We worked very hard, training twice a day, two and a half hours in the morning and three in the evening [before the tournament.] All this helped us achieve the goal of securing a berth to the world championship in Japan. I would also like to express my gratitude to the management of the Volleyball Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The fact that the tournament was held in Almaty was a very significant event for our country’s volleyball lovers. I think hosting such competitions helps a lot in promoting the sport in Kazakhstan,” said Team Kazakhstan head coach Vyacheslav Shapran.

Next year will be the Kazakh national team’s fourth consecutive appearance in the event, as the squad previously played in 2006, 2010 and 2014. Thailand and South Korea won the first two places in Asia’s Pool B to secure berths in the 24-team tournament.



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Astana Pro Team’s Alexei Lutsenko wins Tour of Almaty 2017


ALMATY – The Astana Pro Team’s Alexei Lutsenko of Kazakhstan has once again won the Tour of Almaty, this time in the race’s first iteration as a multi-day event.

Photo credit: tourofalmaty.kz

Kazakhstan’s first professional international two-day cycling race, Tour of Almaty, finished Oct. 1. This year, the tour was upgraded to a multi-day cycling race and included two stages. Twenty teams from 17 nations took part in the competition.

“The International Cyclists Union (ICU) approved the two-day format. This indicates that holding the Tour of Almaty for the previous four years paid off,” Vice President of the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation Amanbek Kulchikov said at a press conference. “We wanted to show all the beauty of the Almaty mountains during the broadcast. This year, the duration of the race’s transmission on the Eurosport TV channel increased by half an hour, and will now be 1.5 hours. Two days is not the limit for the Tour of Almaty. The race has the potential for growth and improvement. This needs to be done in a gradual, thoughtful way, without haste.”

On the first day, the cyclists raced on the city’s wider streets. Astana Pro Team’s Lutsenko showed the best result, celebrating success in the Almaty race for the fourth time. The second day saw the cyclists riding uphill all the way to the famous Medeu skating rink, and this time Lutsenko’s Danish teammate Jakob Fuglsang won, with the Kazakh rider finishing second, just 12 seconds behind. Third place was taken by a rider from the Swiss Roth-Akros, Colin Chris Stussi, who came another 12 seconds after Lutsenko.

“The race went well for me, and the whole team did great. Astana Pro Team was very strong today. I am very happy that I won the Tour of Almaty. This race is very important for the team, because it is held in Kazakhstan and the level of Tour of Almaty is very high. I think it was great to have the second stage in the mountains, because it is very beautiful there,” Fuglsang said after the race.

The Tour’s general classification after two days had Lutsenko as the winner. Fifty-five seconds behind was runner-up Remy di Gregorio of the French pro-continental team Delko Marseille Provence Ktm. Third place went to Fuglsang, whose result was one minute, four seconds behind the winner.

“It was a challenging and nervous race, very intensive. Our team did well today. We had a tactic in the end to allow Jakob to take the initiative. You all know he is good at mountain cycling. So he made an attack some five kilometers before the finish. Other racers could not catch up with him. I was always second or third. Jakob did a great job all the way to Medeu. The team work was great, we won both stages, grabbed the first and third places in the general classification,” commented Lutsenko.

At the race’s awards ceremony, winners in two additional categories were decorated: Lutsenko as the leader of the sprint classification and Rory Townsend from Bike Channel Canyon (UK) as the holder of a polka dot jersey for the best mountain rider.



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Anticipated Golovkin-Alvarez bout ends in controversial draw


ASTANA – Kazakh boxer Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (37-0, 33 KO) fought Mexican fighter Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KO) to a controversial draw Sept. 16 at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas.

Photo credit: Turar Kazangapov

The draw is considered controversial by many pundits and fans who have stated publicly that they believe 35-year-old Golovkin won the fight and that the draw resulted from a flawed scoring by one of the ringside judges.

Photo credit: Turar Kazangapov

Photo credit: Turar Kazangapov

The fight was one of the most anticipated of the year and GGG’s WBC, WBA, IBF and IBO championship belts were at stake.

Even before the fight, experts called Alvarez the toughest opponent in Golovkin’s career. As the bout showed, the Mexican boxer put up a fight Golovkin had never seen before.

As it was expected, the boxers started the fight with probing. By the middle, Golovkin started to reduce the distance. However, the Mexican showed excellent defence skills and made some very dangerous counterattacks.

In general, Golovkin had good tactics and tried to dominate the ending of each round. Alvarez showed decent boxing too but kept a lower profile and did not look like a favourite to win. After 12 rounds, the judges declared a draw – 110-118 (for Alvarez), 114-114, and 115-113 (for Golovkin).

After the fight, Golovkin voiced his bitter disagreement with the decision and told the media he was ready to consider a rematch.

“First of all, I want to thank all my fans, all the Kazakhs who came to America to support me and all those who watched the fight on TV in Kazakhstan. But… I wanted a “big drama show” tonight, I pressed him in every round, and I controlled the ground. I believe I won. Maybe he took three, maximum four, rounds. I think all the fans understand who is the real champion… The judging tonight was terrible. [118-110?] For what? I saw the computer, all total punches, I saw people’s reaction. This is not correct. This is terrible for sport, for boxing,” said Golovkin.

Among many others, the legendary British boxer, former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis called the referees’ ruling unfair.

“Both fighters can hold their heads high tonight but this fight wasn’t close to a draw! I have GGG as clear winner. These scorecards were ridiculous!” Lewis wrote on Twitter.

The pundits, however, quickly began discussing a potential rematch between the boxers to get an answer to the question left unanswered by judges in Las Vegas.

“Of course, I want a rematch. I am ready, I want to fight,” Golovkin’s response was to such questions posed to him immediately after the match on the ring.

“I think Gennady won the bout. However, I would note that he did not have the mood for a hard blow. Canelo showed that he does not want to intensify it, tried to tire out our boxer. Now the Mexican team can get the best of the situation with the rematch. I think it will definitely take place,” said Vice President of the Kazakhstan Federation of Professional Boxing Viktor Demyanenko.



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Kazakhstan beats current champ Argentina to return to Davis Cup World Group


ASTANA – After a year-long hiatus, Kazakhstan’s men’s tennis team returned to the Davis Cup World Group by defeating Argentina in the playoffs.

Photo credit: Sergiy Kivrin

The Argentines, the current Davis Cup champions ,were the clear favourites in the match, even though their 3-2 home loss in February to Italy sent them to the playoffs. Kazakh captain Dias Doskarayev, however, never stopped telling his players they could surprise any opposition.

“There are always chances. We are playing at home on an important stage. We have good statistics at home, regardless of the opponents. Of course, we are playing the current Davis Cup champions and it will be very difficult. The most important thing for our tennis players now is to prepare well and believe in victory. Our players can do it; they proved it many times,” he said before the match, which was contested Sept. 15-17 at Astana’s National Tennis Centre.

Kazakhstan’s number 1, Mikhail Kukushkin, met Guido Pella in the first game, earning the first point for his team with a 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory. The match was quite long, lasting more than three hours.

“I have never played the Argentinean in individual tournaments, but I knew that my opponent was a very strong player, so I set my mind on the hardest fight with him. I believe I could only have won over Pella thanks to our fans. They gave me great support and helped me win,” said Kukushkin after the match.

The guests equalised the score in the match after Argentinean leader Diego Schwartzman defeated Dmitry Popko 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

Few could suggest Kazakhstan would win the doubles. The loss of Andrey Golubev, who was always good in this format, meant it would be very difficult to be victorious on the second day. Initially, Denis Yevseyev was to partner with Aleksandr Nedovyesov, but shortly before the game Doskarayev made a substitute, introducing Timur Khabibullin. The decision proved to be the right one. In a very difficult game, Nedovyesov and Khabibullin earned an important win against Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni.

Kukushkin vs. Schwartzman was the decisive confrontation of the three-day match. The Kazakh player moved better and was more accurate in key episodes, which allowed him to beat his opponent 6-4, 6-4, 7-6, bringing his team an early victory and an elite place in next season’s Davis Cup.

“If you play for your country and your people with all your heart, if you fully believe in yourself and the team, you can beat any opponent, even such a strong one as Argentina. I congratulate everyone on our victory. Kazakhstan’s tennis is now at a very high level. More and more people are getting interested in it. Some people take tennis classes, others come to watch and support the players. It is great. I hope that this victory will contribute to this great trend,” said Doskarayev.



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Astana loses first UEFA Europa League match in Spain


ASTANA – FC Astana, the only Kazakh club in this year’s UEFA Europa League, lost 3-1 while visiting Spanish club Villarreal CF in its first group stage match on Sept. 14.

The teams played one another three years ago in the last qualifying round of the same tournament. The Spaniards, known locally as El Submarino Amarillo or Yellow Submarina because of their home kit colour, secured a confident 4-0 win in that battle. Four members of Astana’s current line-up played in that game, including defenders Abzal Beisebekov, Yevgeny Postnikov and Dmitry Shomko and forward Patrick Twumasi. Midfielder Serikzhan Muzhikov went to Spain as well, but sat out the match. This time Villareal, known for its successful performances in the last two decades in the Spanish Premier League and European tournaments, was the favourite again.

To the surprise of the host team’s fans, Astana was quite active early in the match. Muzhikov made the game’s first shot towards the goal, but it went above the bar. Villarreal responded by dominating for a long period, putting pressure on Kazakh goalkeeper Nenad Eric. Ultimately, a shot by forward Nicola Sansone reached its aim for a 1-0 lead. The visitors’ forward Roman Murtazayev responded with a dangerous header, followed by Beisebekov and Twumasi’s long-range shots, all saved by Villarreal goalkeeper Mariano Barbosa.

Astana finally managed to even the score midway through the second half. Assisted by Twumasi’s corner kick, defender Yuri Logvinenko headed the ball into the hosts’ net. Villarreal needed only seven minutes, however, to prove its status as the team to beat. First, Cédric Bakambu had a clear run on goal, sending the ball into the right top corner of the net. Russian Denis Cheryshev then finished his partner’s cross from the right flank, setting the final score and win for the Spanish club.

“We tried to play good football. The team can be more dynamic and aggressive. Slight mistakes were made [when we missed] three goals. I am glad we scored a goal [following our good performance early] in the second half, but we still weren’t active enough in attacking,” said FC Astana head coach Stanimir Stoilov.

The team’s next match will be Sept. 28 against SK Slavia Prague. Kick-off will be 9 p.m. at Astana Arena.



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