Champions League 2015/16 profiles: Astana
With the 2015 Champions League proper edging nearer, Coral preview minnows Astana, who are 11/2 to take a point off Benfica in their Group C opener on September 15th.
Nicknamed simply the Blue and Yellows, the colour of their home kit, they are the pool outsiders both to win (66/1) and qualify (14/1), after Atletico Madrid, the Portuguese champions and Galatasaray.
Domestic league: Kazakhstan Premier League
How they qualified: As their domestic league champions, they were placed in the Champions League qualifying round two, where they had to knock out Maribor, HJK Helsinki and then finally APOEL Nicosia in the play-offs, all across two legs.
Best Champions League era performance: Astana become the first ever Kazakh club to reach the Champions League group stage this season.
Coach: Former Bulgaria head coach and international midfielder Stanimir Stoilov took charge of Astana in 2014, and has since won the league and Kazakhstan Super Cup.
Ins and outs: The Blue and Yellows have brought in a number of players this summer, including Slovenia half-centurion defender Branko Ilic, DR Congo striker Junior Kabananga and a few others from within their country.
Key player: Goalscoring midfielder and Central African Republic international Foxi Kethevoama has been one of Astana’s main men the past couple of seasons since initially joining on loan in 2012.
One to watch: It will be interesting to see if new signing and former Real Betis, Lokomotiv Moscow and Partizan Belgrade player Ilic can use his international experience to help his new club at least gain a couple of points at their maiden attempt.
Emerging talent: Young attacker Nemanja Maksimovic, 20, who has had youth caps for Serbia, has highly impressed since joining last February. He has scored five goals in 14 league appearances this season so far, and certainly has the potential to become a full international in the near future.
CL group and fixtures:
v Benfica (Away), September 15th
v Galatasaray (Home), September 30th
v Atletico Madrid (Away), October 21st
v Atletico Madrid (Home), November 3rd
v Benfica (Home), November 25th
v Galatasaray (Away), December 8th