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Page last updated at 05:37 GMT, Saturday, 11 October 2008 06:37 UK

Kazakhstan blinded by World Cup fantasy

World Cup qualifier, Group Six, England v Kazakhstan
Venue: Wembley Stadium Date: Saturday, 11 October Kick-off: 1715 BST Coverage: ITV 1 and BBC Radio 5 Live, text commentary on BBC Sport website

A map of Kazakhstan; the Kazakhstan flag (top right); a Kazakhstan banknote (bottom right)
Kazakhstan is the world's ninth biggest country and is one of the fastest-growing nations on earth, partly because of its oil and gas resources

By Jonathan Stevenson

"They want to qualify for the World Cup. I told them it cannot happen but things are moving at such a pace in their country they believe everything is possible."

It is almost beyond belief to reveal which of England's World Cup qualifying opponents this statement refers to.

No, not Croatia. Not even Ukraine but Kazakhstan. The team ranked 131st in the world, that is a place above Singapore but below Hong Kong.

This is a national side that has been in existence for 16 years, who won a paltry single point in the last round of World Cup qualifying.

Capital: Astana
Population: 15.3m
Major export: Oil
Fifa world ranking: 131st
Did you know? The first manned orbital flight by Yuri Gagarin took off from launch facility Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan

Undeterred, Kazakhstan have set their sights on the ultimate prize of reaching South Africa in 2010 and that is what 49-year-old Dutchman Arno Pijpers believes was the principal reason behind his sacking as coach in September.

"I think that is what the leadership of the football federation is thinking at the moment, I really do," Pijpers told BBC Sport.

"It is not going to happen, absolutely no way. I told them this, that in a group with Croatia, England, Ukraine and Belarus, it is impossible but they will not listen."

After leading Kazakhstan's rapidly improving football team for two-and-a-half years, Pijpers became the scapegoat for the grandiose football ambitions of the world's ninth biggest country.

Partly because of the vast oil and gas fields, Kazakhstan has been growing at a quicker rate than Russia since 2000 and countries like China and the United States are falling over themselves to buy a share of its natural resources.

Despite having a population of just over 15m, Kazakhstan covers an area of land greater than the size of western Europe and aspires to become one of the world's top oil exporters in the next 10 to 15 years.

In tandem with economic development, the Kazakh football chiefs want to see a similarly rapid improvement in their team's fortunes.

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Ten points in Euro 2008 qualifying, including a fine 2-1 home victory against Serbia and draws at home and away with Belgium, were quickly undone by World Cup qualifying defeats against Croatia and Ukraine in September.

That left Kazakh Football Federation secretary general Sayan Khamitzhanov fuming: "How long must we endure it? We are ashamed of the results." And as a result, one-time national hero Pijpers was unceremoniously fired.

They were strong words but Pijpers was neither surprised nor disappointed to find himself out of favour with the Kazakhstan federation and out of work.

"In Kazakhstan, the whole society is moving very, very fast," said Pijpers.

"They have oil and gas and there is a very big income at the moment. The problem is that they expect the country to be like England in 10 years or so and they expect the football to be the same as England as well.

"I made some big steps forward with Kazakhstan after taking over, we were going along great with some encouraging displays in the last qualifying tournament.

SCOUTING: Samat Smakov
He plays left central defence, has good speed, plays good long passes and can play just in front of the defence too

Arno Pijpers

"If you make steps forward with the team, you need also to make steps forward with the things that surround the team but it was too difficult for them.

"In the end, I think I paid for how successful I was for two years."

Perhaps Pijpers also paid the price for another sporting success - the Kazakh cycling team Astana, who have achieved a rapid rise to the top of their sport, despite only being founded in 2007.

Funded by a coalition of state-owned companies from Kazakhstan, Astana have arguably the world's best professional cyclist on their books in the shape of Alberto Contador, who won the 2007 Tour de France with the Discovery Channel team.

And last month, seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong revealed he would come out of retirement to race with Astana from 2009.

Nikolai Proskurin, the deputy president of the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation, could barely contain his excitement, saying: "I believe Armstrong will become a new sporting brand for Kazakhstan."

If only it was so easy to create a successful Kazakhstan national football brand.

"The cycling team has a huge amount of money but the president of the country, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is keen on cycling so it is easy for them to attract big sponsors," stated Pijpers.

"He is not so interested in football so it is a little more difficult but in time that might change."

Arno Pijpers
Pijpers coached the Estonia national team from 2000-2004

Whatever their expectations, Pijpers' employers can have few complaints about how the former Estonia coach moulded and developed a team during his time in the former Soviet Republic.

But he says the men running Kazakh football are too blinkered to think about planning for the future.

They look at their neighbours Russia and how Pijpers' fellow Dutch coach Guus Hiddink led them to the semi-finals of Euro 2008 and they want success now.

"I am a very realistic coach and I told them it would take time, much more time, but they did not listen," claimed Pijpers.

"In Holland, it took 20 or 30 years to build up their football before they were at that level. In Kazakhstan they want to do it in a couple of years and it's impossible.

"They look at Russia and see their success and want it, they even say as much.

"But I told them that in Russia they have established clubs like Spartak Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg and one player from Zenit has the same salary as all the Kazakhstan players, so it's absolutely not realistic."

SCOUTING: Nurbol Zhumaskaliyev
He is a technical midfield player, reads the game very well. Nurbol could play in Europe at a good level

Arno Pijpers

In the Netherlands, success on the football pitch has been based on the foundation of developing young players and their coaching techniques have been imitated all around the globe.

Pijpers urged the Kazakh footballing hierarchy to install a similar system but his pleas fell on deaf ears.

"They are not putting money into the next generation of footballers. I tried to do things with development but they wouldn't have anything to do with it, they weren't interested," he added.

"They want success and if you tell them that to have success you need to develop for 10, 15 years, then they are not interested anymore.

"They want success after one-and-a-half days, that's what they want.

"It seems to me that maybe I was just asking too much of them."

After sacking Pijpers, Kazakhstan placed German Bernd Storck in temporary charge of the team and it is the former Kazakh Under-21 coach who will lead out the team in front of a sold-out Wembley on Saturday.

Pipers hopes that before such an enormous game for the nation Storck does not try to change the team's 'Dutch' style of play.

If he does, Pijpers warns that Kazakhstan could be in for a rude awakening at the hands of Theo Walcott and co.

SCOUTING: Sergei Ostapenko
He's big and strong, not that quick but he has a very good awareness in front of goal

Arno Pijpers

"I'm from Holland, so, strange as it sounds, we played a little bit in that style, building up from the back and getting the ball wide, getting wingers into play," said Pijpers.

"The Kazakhstan players are technically good and physically fit. When I arrived they were a little naive but less so now maybe.

"I don't know much about the new coach. If he continues as things are this is OK but if you are a small country and you make mistakes, it can end up as a disaster.

"If you are organised and realistic is it always possible to do something special but if they get too optimistic - like the FA bosses - and play an open game, anything can happen.

"I don't know what they will do against England but they do have enough quality to perform well."

There is no doubt that in Kazakhstan, one of the most rapidly developing countries on earth, the funds exist to build an infrastructure that will help them to produce some top-class footballers of the future.

The question is, do the country's federation chiefs have the inclination and patience to make it happen?

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see also
Capello in dark over Kazakhstan
10 Oct 08 |  Internationals
World Cup 2010 qualifying
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Country profile: Kazakhstan
07 Aug 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Kazakhstan
07 Aug 08 |  Country profiles
Injured Terry to miss qualifier
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England's problem midfield
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How to help the England boss
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Crouch thanks Redknapp for recall
07 Oct 08 |  Internationals
Kazakhstan's search for its identity
11 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Kazakhstan buys BBC Dibley show
14 Sep 08 |  Entertainment

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