September 19, 2019
Kazakh side from the furthest outpost in top-level European football includes a United fan who flew to games in Manchester
Astana sense great chance of upset after their long road to Old Trafford
By the time FC Astana touched down in Manchester on Monday, they had been in the air for more than seven hours. A quick stop in Riga had lengthened their day and it was little wonder that, whereas most teams travel to European fixtures the afternoon before the game, the serial Kazakh champions had afforded themselves three days to prepare for this one. As far as their body clocks, tuned five hours ahead of British Summer Time, were concerned it was into the early hours of the morning when they finally checked into their hotel and could begin adjusting to the task in hand.
For Astana it is hardly an unfamiliar scenario: they have faced similar challenges in the majority of the 35 away fixtures they have contested in the Europa League and Champions League since, in 2013, they took their first steps on this stage. But for everyone else there remains a sense of mystery about facing a team based 3,700 miles from Old Trafford, and three times closer to the Chinese border than to Moscow. It is the furthest outpost in top-level European football; a remote new city in a still-new country, and – in the familiar modern-day mould – a sporting project designed to deepen Kazakhstan’s imprint on the geopolitical map.
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