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UEFA Europa League: Who are FC Astana, Manchester United’s Kazakhstani group stage opposition

Manchester United group in the UEFA Europa League was drawn on Friday afternoon. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United will be pitted against FC Astana of Kazakhstan, Partizan Belgrade of Serbia, and AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands. After United’s start to the season, these matches will ensure that the club will sink or swim in the competition.

FC Astana are from Kazakhstan and were founded in 2009 as Lokomotiv Astana, so have had ten years experience as a football club. The young club plays in the Kazakhstan Premier League, winning the league five times in the decade they have been a club. Home matches are played a the Astana Arena, a 30,244 capacity stadium Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

The Astana Arena was completed on the 3 July 2009 and homes Astana, FC Baytarek, the Kazakhstani national team, also hosting the 2011 Asian Winter Games. Astana has had 12 managers in this history of the club, the most successful was Stanimir Stoilov who won four Kazakhstan Premier League titles, one Kazakhstan Cup and one Kazakhstan Super Cup.

Astana won their first trophy in 2010, the Kazakhstan Cup, which has been won three times by the club. The Kazakhstan Super Cup was lifted in 2011 with the club winning it four times. The first league title was won in 2014, lifting it each year since. Currently, Astana are fourth in the league, five points adrift of league leaders FC Tobol.

As the reigning Kazakhstani champions, Astana initially qualified for the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round and were drawn against CFR Cluj. Astana won the first leg 1-0 but lost the second leg 3-1, losing 3-2 on aggregate and exiting the competition. They then faced qualification in the UEFA Europa League instead.

Entering in the second qualification round, Astana beat Santa Coloma 4-1 on aggregate, after a 0-0 draw in the first leg. They were then drawn against Maltese side Valletta, winning 5-1 and 4-0, 9-1 on aggregate. In the playoff round, they face BATE Borisov, winning 3-0 at home and losing 2-0 away but reaching the group stages with a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Who is the manager of FC Astana?

Roman Hryhorchuk is the current manager of the club. The 54-year-old was announced as the manager of the club on the 1 June 2018. The Ukrainian was a striker in his playing career coming through the academy of Nyva Berezhany. He has played for many clubs, including Silmash Kolomyia, Prykarpattya Ivano-Frankivsk, and Temp Shepetivka.

In 1994, Hryhorchuk played for Austrian club VSE St. Poelten, before moving to Polish club ZKS Petrochemia Płock, then to Russian club Saturn Ramenskoye. His playing career was over in 2001 after ending his time as a player at Latvian club Dinaburg. Whilst playing for the club, he was the assistant manager, becoming the manager the years before he retired.

Hryhorchuk left his role at Dinaburg in 2004, commencing his management career in 2005 at Ventspils in Latvia. He left the club in 2009 to return to Ukraine, taking on the top job at Metalurh Zaporizhya, before being named as the Chornomorets Odesa manager a year later. He left Ukraine in 2014 to manager Azerbaijani club Gabala, before taking on his current role four years later.

Who plays for FC Astana?

Marin Tomasov, a 31-year-old Croatian winger, has played for Astana for around two years now. He is currently the clubs top scorer with 18 goals in 32 appearances for the club. In his career, Tomasov has played for Hajduk Split and 1860 München before moving to Astana, where he spent a period on loan before becoming a permanent signing at the club.

The second top scorer at the club is Kazakhstani forward Roman Murtazayev. The 25-year-old has been at the club since 2016, signing from Irtysh Pavlodar. Murtazayev has scored ten goals in 33 appearances for the club this season. Granted, the season is 23 league games in for this club but they will be ready to take on United before the winter.

Curaçao-born Rangelo Janga is joint-third in goals scored this season, scoring six times in 31 appearances. The 6ft 5in striker in 27 and could well pose a threat for United if given the chance. Teammate, Rúnar Már Sigurjónsson is also on six goals in just 14 appearances with the Icelandic midfielder show his class in this league. Dorin Rotariu, a 24-year-old forward from Romania has five goals in 31 appearances.

Does United have a history with FC Astana?

United and Astana have never met competitively, so this will be the first time both clubs have played a competitive fixture. It will be relatively unknown for United, although they have played teams from far away in the UEFA Europa League before, although never against a club from Kazakhstan, this will be the first time for that also.

Astana, despite being a young club, had experience playing European football. They first played in the Europa League in 2013 and also made it to the group stages of the UEFA Champions League during the 2015/16 season, where they were unbeaten at home against Atletico Madrid, Benfica and Galatasaray, which was good for them.

During the 2016/17 season, when United lifted the Europa League for the first time, they were drawn against Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine in the group stages. United were also drawn against Russian side Rostov in the round of 16. Jose Mourinho, then manager of the club, led his side to glory by beating Ajax 2-0 in the final, played in Stockholm, Sweden.

When are the matches against FC Astana going to be played?

United will face Astana at Old Trafford on Thursday 19 September 2019 with the match kicking off at 20:00 BST. The away leg in Kazakhstan will be played at the Astana Arena on Thursday 28 November 2019, kicking off at 15:50 BST. Kazakhstan is six hours ahead of the United Kingdom. This will be a massive trip for United, who will travel more than 6,000 miles for the match, in between a trip to Sheffield United and welcoming Aston Villa at Old Trafford.

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