Kazakhstan v Scotland: What will Alex McLeish and his side face in Astana?

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland in Astana
Sergei Khizhnichenko and Mikael Lustig
Celtic suffered a scare against then Kazakh champions Shakhter Karagandy in 2013
Euro 2020 qualifying: Kazakhstan v Scotland
Venue: Astana Arena, Astana Date: Thursday, 21 March Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website; watch highlights on BBC Scotland

In 2013, a young Virgil van Dijk made his first start for Celtic - alongside the long-forgotten Steven Mouyokolo - at the same Astana Arena that will host Scotland on Thursday.

The Scottish champions endured a calamitous evening on the artificial surface, losing 2-0 to Shakhter Karagandy in the Champions League play-off round.

"They didn't surprise me," said manager Neil Lennon, whose side overturned the deficit in the second leg. But what happened that night should give plenty food for Scotland head coach Alex McLeish's thoughts.

Celtic have been to this part of mid-Asia twice since to face Astana and those visits also provided stern examinations, even though they had the comfort of a 5-0 first-leg lead on their most recent trip.

Aberdeen have also sampled the Kazakh welcome but were eliminated in the Europa League qualifiers by Kairat of Almaty in 2015.

The Kazakh national team may be ranked 117, but Scotland have dropped points against much poorer sides in the past and three points are a must if they are to rival Belgium and Russia for qualification.

And it may not be an easy night in front of around 20,000 expectant Kazakhs on Thursday.

Karagandy and Astana have both featured in group stage European football - the latter in the Champions League - and, while they don't have a history of coming close to qualification, their new Czech coach, Michal Bilek, knows how to get the job done.

Kazakhs to watch

Yuriy Logvinenko and Emile Heskey
Logvinenko's Kazakhstan lost to England in 2009

Yuriy Logvinenko: The 30-year-old Astana centre-back is likely to win his 50th cap in his home stadium, where he scored in a 1-1 Champions League qualifier against Brendan Rodgers' Celtic in 2016. He has also netted five times for his country, with three of them coming against coach Bilek's native Czechs. An experienced and successful campaigner, Logvinenko has won six Kazakh titles with Aktobe and Astana.

Roman Murtazaev: Formerly of Karagandy, where he was a substitute as a teenager against Celtic, Murtazaev is an important figure in the current Astana side that has made a perfect start to their season. The left winger scored eight goals in 2018, setting up another seven, though he was in the team that was thrashed 5-0 at Celtic Park last season.

Aleksey Shchetkin: Has bucked the trend in Kazakhstan, having left champions Astana for Ordabasy in January. The big striker scored 10 goals for the capital side last season on their way to the title and, if given the nod, could cause problems for the Scottish defence at set-plays in particular.

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