4 main talking points ahead of Scotland’s clash with Kazakhstan
Scotland open their European Championship qualifying campaign in Kazakhstan on Thursday.
Here are the major talking points ahead of the encounter in the Astana Arena in the Kazakh capital.
Where are we?
The country’s parliament voted to rename capital city Astana as Nursultan on the eve of the game, in tribute to long-serving president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned on Tuesday after almost 30 years in power. The Kazakh national team also have a new leader in the form of former Czech head coach Michal Bilek and Scotland will be hoping there are no tributes to him after his first game in charge.
Scotland will play indoors with the Astana Arena roof set to remain closed. The temperature is nearing minus 20C outside at times but is about 11C inside the stadium. The artificial pitch adds to the unusual surroundings.
Scotland boss Alex McLeish will need to make at least six changes from the team that beat Albania and Israel in the Nations League in November. Allan McGregor, Andy Robertson, Ryan Fraser, Callum Paterson, Steven Fletcher and Ryan Christie have all dropped out for one reason or another and McLeish is also missing the likes of Kieran Tierney, Steven Naismith, Leigh Griffiths and Charlie Mulgrew. Scotland’s strength in depth will be severely tested.
Kazakhstan are ranked 117th in the world and have only won three of their last 40 competitive games. But Scotland cannot afford to take anyone lightly given their past history of struggles against lower-ranked teams and many of the squad have experienced difficult encounters in Kazakhstan. Aberdeen lost to Kairat Almaty in the Europa League in 2015 and Celtic have failed to win in three Champions League qualifying visits to the former Soviet republic, although they have gone through on each occasion.