'We're set for battle'
Kazakhstan's Bundesliga midfielder Schmidtgal is steeled for 'big' Irish test
THERE ARE not too many travel and logistical problems for the Kazakhstan national team when they get together.
As the Ireland squad assembled in Dublin earlier this week from starting points in Canada, the USA and Russia as well as England, the Kazakhstan squad did football's equivalent of rolling out of bed and going downstairs to work in your PJs as all bar one of the squad which will face Ireland in Astana tomorrow are based in Kazakhstan, so assembling for international duty last week was no big deal.
The one exception is their also their best player, Heinrich Schmidtgal, who plays in Germany. His club Greuther Furth are not one of the big names in the German league but they are now a top-flight side, promoted to the top flight before the start of this season, and after a chastening start to life in the Bundesliga (they lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich) on the opening day of the season they won last weekend. And he has Ireland in his sights.
"It's going to be a hard game, but it's our first match of the group and a home game so we will aim for the win," says Schmidtgal.
"Ireland are a very strong side in midfield so we will have to try and get at them on the wings. They have a very good team and we know that they qualified for the Euro finals last summer so it's a big test for us.
"But we are at home so we have to try and show what we can do and do something for our fans, get a result and try to win the game," added Schmidtgal.
His presence in the Kazakhstan squad is one of those oddities of recent European history as his family were ethnic Germans who ended up in exile in far-off Kazakhstan in the chaotic aftermath of World War Two. Schmidtgal's family then moved to Germany when he was only a toddler, when Kazakhstan was still part of the USSR, and he was to all intents and purposes a German until Kazakhstan discovered that he'd been born there, an approach was made and once the paperwork was completed the German-speaker declared for his native Kazakhstan two years ago.
Schmidtgal will get to play with and against some top class players in the German league this season but for the rest of his team-mates in the national team squad their only chance to rub shoulders with big names will be in this World Cup qualifying campaign as they are all based at home in Kazakhstan, so they're more used to watching the likes of Aiden McGeady on TV than playing against them at club level.
"We watched them on TV at Euro 2012 last year and Ireland are a good side," says striker Sergei Gridin, who had a dream debut last year when he scored both goals of a 2-1 win in Euro qualifier against Azerbaijan in his first appearance for the side.
"But Ireland didn't do so well at the final and like every team they have a good side and a bad side. They still represent a big threat to us, they're still a strong team. If we play well in defence and do our jobs, we'll be ok.
"Ireland are a strong team and the battle for us won't just be in defence against them but in every area of the pitch, whoever wins those physical battles will win the game," Gridin added.
After a poor showing in the Euro 2012 qualifiers when the highlights for Kazakhstan were a win over Azerbaijan and a draw at home to Austria, the home side have told the Astana public that they can upset the Irish side.
"Of course you always have a chance to take points," Gridin says. "We just want to show our good side, get a good result and give ourselves a chance of not being the also-rans in the group," he said.
The Kazakhstan squad moved from their base at the national team's training camp to the capital, Astana, yesterday and their squad will train in the spanking new 30,000 capacity stadium, the Astana Arena, tonight.