UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifiers
Kazakhstan v Scotland
Thursday, 21 March 2019, kick-off 3pm (UK time)
Astana Arena, Astana
The road to UEFA EURO 2020 kicks off in earnest for Scotland this Thursday, as Alex McLeish’s side make the long trip to Kazakhstan for their first qualifying match of the new campaign.
Having guaranteed the safety net of a playoff place thanks to last year’s UEFA Nations League success, McLeish’s men will now turn their attentions towards securing an automatic qualification berth by finishing as one of the top two teams in Group I.
However, with the world’s top-ranked side Belgium and 2018 FIFA World Cup quarter-finalists Russia amongst Scotland’s competitors for an automatic spot at UEFA EURO 2020, players and coaches alike know that making a strong start is likely to be crucial.
A squad featuring some new faces have flown east for the encounter, in what will mark Scotland’s first meeting with Kazakhstan.
Their hosts are expected to field a squad comprised mainly of home-based players in Astana, with temperatures expected to be well below freezing come kick-off.
Five players could make their senior Scotland debuts in the Kazakhstani capital on Thursday, as Alex McLeish looks to test some fresh faces to the international setup.
Hibernian striker Marc McNulty and Sheffield Wednesday defender Liam Palmer joined John Fleck as the uncapped players in the original squad, following a string of impressive performances since the turn of the year.
Liam Kelly and Stuart Findlay, of Livingston and Kilmarnock respectively, could also win their first caps after being called in to replace the injured Jordan Archer and Charlie Mulgrew.
Callum McGregor has been confirmed as captain for the match, with Andy Robertson unavailable – the Scotland the left-back will join the squad in time for Sunday's match against San Marino. Kieran Tierney will also be unavailable for the match in Astana.
Ryan Fraser and Callum Paterson are also unavailable for the tie, yet —having missed the UEFA Nations League climax due to injury — while John McGinn is in the running for a return to international action.
Kazakhstan head coach Michal Bilek has named a squad containing 19 players that ply their trade in the Kazakhstan Premier League, including uncapped defender Temirlan Erlanov.
Yuriy Logvinenko could make his 50th appearance for his country against Scotland, whilst Aleksey Shchotkin is expected to lead the line.
Scotland midfielder Kenny McLean: “We know Kazakhstan are going to have quality – it is going to be a tough game in tough conditions. The pitch isn’t ideal but it’s one we are looking forward to. We only come together so often so when we do come together we need to gel quickly and really hit the ground running.
“Getting off to a good start in the qualification campaign is massive. We need to look at this as a massive step to take towards getting us into a good position. It’s early stages of the competition, but it’s maybe where the downfall has been in recent campaigns.
“Since the manager has come in there has been a progression. The boys have been playing better stuff than previously and we need to keep the momentum going and build on the performances. Looking back at the games we played — in particular the Israel game — we have looked at what we can improve on so we will look to improve on that and keep the momentum going.
“I’m delighted to be back in the squad. I saw the games I missed and the team played really well. It would have been easy for the manager to keep the same squad and same team but I’ve been working hard to get back from injury and get back into the team at my club. That has been recognised, which I appreciate.
“My confidence from club form is really high but when you come away with the national team it’s a different challenge. It’s a great squad we have got here, it’s full of quality, so we are looking to do as well as we can against Kazahkstan and take home the three points.”
“We’re looking to build on the Nations League and go straight into these games and pick up where we left off.”— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) March 19, 2019
You can watch @oli_mcburnie's speak to the media in Kazakhstan on our YouTube channel now: https://t.co/SbpS8W6w7x#KAZSCO #NothingMattersMore
Where will the game be played?
The Astana Arena will provide the backdrop for Thursday’s encounter, with the stadium having been home to Kazakhstan since being completed in 2009.
The venue, which can hold 30,000 spectators, boasts a retractable roof and an artificial pitch and has also hosted the opening ceremony of the 2011 Asian Games.
Current squad members Kieran Tierney, Callum McGregor and Stuart Armstrong all have experience of playing at the stadium, the trio having been involved in Celtic’s UEFA Champions League qualifier against Astana in 2017.
How has Kazakhstan fared recently?
Ranked 117th in the FIFA World Rankings, Kazakhstan has endured a turbulent few months at international level.
Having begun their 2018 fixtures with an impressive 3-2 victory away to Hungary, hopes were high that the team would be able to mount a challenge in the UEFA Nations League.
However, Kazakhstan found themselves unable to compete with runaway group winners Georgia, which saw the tenure of Stanimir Stoilov as manager come to an end.
New head coach Michal Bilek is unbeaten in his spell in charge thus far, his side having claimed a 1-0 victory over Moldova in February.
Who should Scotland be looking out for?
Bilek’s squad features two talented young prospects who could cause Scotland problems on Thursday afternoon, should they be afforded the time and space to do so.
Baktyar Zaynutdinov may be just 20, but the Rostov midfielder has caught the eye in his short international career to date with his creativity and eye for goal.
Up front, Yerkebulan Seidakhmet’s strike rate of two goals from five caps will be enough to mark him out as one to watch for McLeish and his defenders.
We have never faced Kazakhstan at Men's A International level.— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) March 19, 2019
Can you identify which other teams we have never faced? Give it a go in our 'True or False' #TuesdayTeaser!#KAZSCO #NothingMattersMorehttps://t.co/6yCk5Ccj4Q
Where to watch
Scotland supporters can watch the match live on Sky Sports this Thursday afternoon, with BBC Radio Scotland also offering live commentary. Kick-off is scheduled for 3pm (UK time).