UEFA Europa League – Astana-Sporting CP – Astana v Sporting background
Sporting CP make the long, continent-spanning journey from Lisbon to Astana to take on the champions of Kazakhstan in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League round of 32.
• FC Astana are the first Kazakh club to participate in the knockout phase of a UEFA club competition. They claimed their place as runners-up to Villarreal in Group A, while Sporting dropped into the UEFA Europa League after finishing third behind Barcelona and Juventus in their UEFA Champions League group.
• There have been no previous meetings between the two clubs, and Sporting have never faced opposition from Kazakhstan.
• Astana took on Sporting’s city rivals Benfica in the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League. They made their group stage debut in Lisbon, losing 2-0 before drawing the return fixture 2-2 in Astana – letting slip a two-goal lead. Current players Patrick Twumasi and Marin Aničić scored the home team’s goals.
• Defeat in the Astana Arena against Villarreal on matchday five (2-3) ended a 17-game unbeaten European home run for Astana (W9 D8) – since they lost 3-0 to the same opponents in the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League play-offs. They recovered, however, to win 1-0 at Slavia Praha on matchday six and secure their historic qualification for the round of 32 at their hosts’ expense.
• Astana have found the net in each of their last eight European home fixtures, scoring 18 goals over that period at an average of 2.25 per game.
• Sporting have lost six of their last eight European away fixtures – and 18 of their last 26 (W3 D5). They have won only one of their last 15 games outside Lisbon in the UEFA Europa League, play-offs included, losing ten.
• The Lions, who finished runners-up in the 2004/05 UEFA Cup, losing the final in their own stadium to CSKA Moskva (1-3), are playing in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 for the sixth time. They have won two of their previous five ties at this stage – against Everton in 2009/10 and Legia Warszawa in 2011/12 – but lost the last two, in 2015 and 2016. Sporting have never won the away leg at this stage of the competition (D2 L3).
• Beaten 8-4 on aggregate by Celtic in the UEFA Champions League play-offs (0-5 away, 4-3 home), Astana have made it through to the spring phase of European competition for the first time, having played continental group stage football three autumns running: UEFA Champions League in 2015/16 and UEFA Europa League in 2016/17 and 2017/18.
• Sporting finished third in last season’s Portuguese Liga and reached the UEFA Champions League group stage with a 5-1 win away to Romanian side FCSB in the play-offs, which clinched an aggregate success by the same margin.
Links and trivia
• At 6,171km, the journey from Lisbon to Astana is one of the longest in European football.
• Although this is Sporting’s first match in Kazakhstan, the Lions’ futsal team appeared in the final four of the 2010/11 UEFA Futsal Cup in Almaty, where they finished runners-up to Italian team Montesilvano.
• Sporting’s Stefan Ristovski and Astana’s Marin Tomasov played together at Rijeka in 2015/16.
• Sporting’s Bas Dost and Astana’s Ivan Maevski faced each other in October 2017 as the Netherlands beat Belarus 3-1 in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying.
• Astana clinched their fourth successive Kazakh Premier League title on 5 November 2017, finishing one point ahead of perennial rivals Kairat Almaty.
• Seven of Astana’s last eight goals in this competition have been scored by their two African strikers, Twumasi (four) and Junior Kabananga (three). The exception was Aničić’s winning goal at Slavia.
• Sporting’s transfer from the UEFA Champions League means they have participated in seven of the nine UEFA Europa League campaigns. Only Ajax (eight appearances) have been involved in more.
• Sporting’s Portuguese international goalkeeper – and UEFA EURO 2016 winner – Rui Patrício could celebrate a special birthday a long way from home as he turns 30 on the day of the game.
• Recruited in June 2014, Stanimir Stoilov led Astana to their fourth successive Kazakh title last November. The former Bulgaria midfielder and national team coach enjoyed his most fruitful years as a player at Levski Sofia, whom he later guided to two national championships as well as the 2005/06 UEFA Cup quarter-finals and the following season’s UEFA Champions League group stage.
• Jorge Jesus was lured to Sporting from Lisbon rivals Benfica in 2015 after six seasons as head coach with the Eagles that brought nine domestic trophies, including three Liga titles, plus two runners-up berths in the UEFA Europa League – in 2012/13 to Chelsea and 2013/14 to Sevilla. His relatively discreet playing career started with Sporting in the early 1970s.