If anything has benefited from the expansion of the number of Euro participants, it is that non-football countries have a better chance of advancing. Eight years ago it was Albania, in 2021 it was Macedonia and this year it looks like Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan’s rise came with the creation of the Nations League. In the very first edition, which ended in 2018, it managed to advance from the D performance league to the C. It left Latvia and Andorra behind.
A year later, although the Kazakhs did not qualify for the Euros, they still scored the most points in the history of the qualifiers. Two wins over San Marino, a draw with Cyprus and, most importantly, a 3-0 triumph over Scotland meant a total of 10 points.
In the next qualification, the lottery gave Kazakhstan a very difficult group. It included the last World Champion France, Euro 2021 quarter-finalist Ukraine, European Championship participant Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Kazakhs fought bravely, even though they were last. They scored two draws against Ukraine, with the home game (2: 2) in particular entertaining thanks to two goals in stoppage time. They followed that up with another draw in Bosnia and Herzegovina, losing only 0: 2 at home to France.
In 2022, Kazakhstan swept through Group C in the Nations League. Two wins over the favoured Slovaks were decisive, and the Kazakhs were assured of qualification to the B group with a round to go in the competition with Belarus and Azerbaijan.
They could thus enter the Euro qualifiers in Germany with confidence. They led in the opening game against the Slovenians but eventually lost 1:2, but closed the March meeting with a turnaround from 0:2 to 3:2 against Denmark in the final 15 minutes.
In June, Kazakhstan first knocked out a weak San Marino, but the real challenge came from Northern Ireland. In Belfast it was goalless for a long time, but in the 88th minute the Kazakhs made a quick counter to win 1: 0.
After four rounds of qualification they are tied for first place with Finland, with the Danes and Slovenians two points worse off.
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