Why is Kazakhstan playing in UEFA

Germany's opponent in the World Cup qualification : Kazakhstan and the longing for Europe

That sport and politics have nothing to do with each other is one of the dearest life lies of all international sports associations. Of course it's different. Wales, for example, owes its only participation in a football World Cup in Sweden in 1958, mainly to political upheavals that took place far away from the British Isles. Although the Welsh had already failed in the qualification, they unexpectedly got a second chance and prevailed in a specially scheduled relegation against Israel. Under normal circumstances, the Israelis would have traveled to the World Cup - because they had won all of their qualifying matches without having played a single one.

In the wake of the Suez crisis, first Turkey refused to face Israel, then Sudan and Egypt; Indonesia merely agreed to play against the Israelis in a neutral position. That in turn rejected the world association Fifa and then devised a play-off round against Wales for the Israelis. Because Israel continued to be rejected by its Arab neighbors in the decades to come, it was only logical that the country withdrew from the Asian Football Association (AFC) in 1974 and declared membership of the Uefa.

Israel's association was rejected by its Arab neighbors until the 1970s and then moved from Asia to Europe

Israel's move from the Asian to the European association is probably the most spectacular transition in football history. It is not an isolated case. Kazakhstan, opponent of the German national team in the World Cup qualification on Tuesday evening, also took exactly this step. From 1994 to 2002 the Kazakhs were members of the AFC, after which they moved to the Uefa. Unlike Israel, at least five percent of the country belongs to Europe. Kazakhstan is one of a total of eight countries in Uefa that are not at all or only with a small part of their national territory in Europe. The others are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Israel, Russia, Turkey and Cyprus. According to the Uefa statutes, it is possible in exceptional cases and with the consent of Fifa that regional associations can also become members that geographically belong to another continent and do not belong to another confederation.

Kazakhstan's move to Uefa is still unusual at first glance. The prospects of qualifying for a World Cup would certainly be greater for the Kazakhs in Asia. For precisely these pragmatic considerations, Australia switched from the Oceanic Federation (OFC) to the AFC after the 2006 World Cup. To take part in a world championship, the winner of the Oceania qualification had to prevail in a play-off round against the fifth from South America. For the Australians, this hurdle had usually proven to be too high, even if they triumphed on penalties over Uruguay in 2005 and thus qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Kazakhstan - as a former republic of the Soviet Union - could have become a member of Uefa as early as the early 1990s. A corresponding offer was made to all 15 new regional associations. But like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, the Kazakhs also opted for Asia. The main reason was the desire to clearly separate oneself from Moscow. But even then there was a strong tendency towards Europe in football. Membership in Uefa has the positive side effect that the Kazakh club teams are allowed to take part in the lucrative European Cup competitions.

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