Astana-Benfica match sets new Champions League distance mark

Lisbon, Sep 15 (IANS) Kazakhstan’s FC Astana will travel a record 6,100 kilometres (3,790 miles) to face off against Portugal’s Benfica in a Champions League match here on Tuesday night, exceeding the maximum distance ever travelled by a football club for any match in all European competitions.

The Kazakh club is widely considered to be the weakest team of Group C, which also includes Atletico Madrid, Galatasaray and Benfica, but they will be willing to put up a good show, reports Efe.

The match will also provide Kazakhstan with the chance to help change the image of its country and associate it with quality international football.

FC Astana was founded in 2009 thanks to the merger of two clubs from the city of Almaty, who decided to join forces and move to the capital of the country.

The Kazakh squad is part of a sports conglomerate, the Astanat Presidential Sports Club, founded by the country’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The initiative arose in 2013 at a ceremony attended by football greats such as Luis Figo and Oliver Kahn, and which was aimed at helping Kazakh athletes break into the international sports world.

Astana, before its involvement in the Champions League, managed to win five domestic titles in its first six years as a club.

The squad features 20-year-old Serbian midfielder Nemanja Maksimovic, as well as Kazakh forward Bauyrzhan Dzholchiyev, 25.

The team arrived on Sunday in Lisbon after a 10-hour flight on board a chartered jet, which made a stop in Bulgaria to refuel, and shortly after landing in Portugal the players were already out on the pitch continuing to hone their skills for the match.

At a press conference, Benfica coach Rui Vitoria was cautious in sizing up his adversary and emphasized that Astana “is a very well-organised team.”

Vitoria said that the rival squad specialises in “quickly going on the attack,” and so he said he expects them to try and exploit their options on the counterattack.

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