ASTANA – Two players with the national teams of Serbia and Azerbaijan have recently signed contracts with FC Astana: Serbian national team defender Antonio Rukavina and Azerbaijani national team quarterback Richard Almeida.
Rukavina will be well-known to Kazakhstan’s fans, given his five seasons with Spain’s Villarreal, which faced off against FC Astana many times in UEFA Europa League matches. Over this time, Rukavina played 99 matches for the Yellow Submarine, 22 of them UEFA Europa League matches and 76 La Liga matches.
Before joining Villarreal, the experienced defender played for Serbia’s FK Bezanija and FK Partizan, Germany’s Borussia Dortmund and TSV 1860 Munich, as well as for Spain’s Real Valladolid.
Rukavina played on Serbia’s youth football team, winning the UEFA World Cup bronze medal with them in 2016. He also played 49 matches for Serbia’s national football team.
Rukavina comes to FC Astana hot off his performance at the 2018 UEFA World Cup, during which he played in two matches out of three in Russia against the national teams of Costa Rica and Brazil.
Almeida was born and brought up in Brazil, where he began his career with Santo Andre. He then spent two successful seasons with Portugal’s Gil Vicente FC.
In 2012, Almeida relocated to Azerbaijan to join Qarabag FK and became a true leader of the club. Over six seasons, Almeida played in 216 matches in which he scored 48 goals and had 19 assists. He is a five-time champion of Azerbaijan, and all the current success of Qarabag FK both in Europe and in the Azerbaijan Premier League can be linked to him.
Almeida made his debut in Qarabag FK in the group stage of the Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. He played in almost 30 matches in the Europa League, scoring two goals. His best performances came against London’s Tottenham Hotspurs and Belgium’s R.S.C. Anderlecht.
In 2017, Almeida became an Azerbaijani citizen and made his debut in the country’s national team. As of today, he has played in eight matches with them.
“We have observed the player for a long time – over recent years, Richard has been one of the leaders of the best Azerbaijani football club, Qarabag FK. Richard plays as central attacking quarterback – playmaker, the position that has been vacant for a long time on our team. Almeida is very efficient – he is able to pass and score a goal at the last minute. Over a long period in Azerbaijan, Richard fully adapted to the specific life conditions of the country and we think that his adaptation period in Kazakhstan will be minimal,” said Sayan Khamitzhanov, president of FC Astana, on the team’s signing the Azerbaijani star.
In the first qualifying round of the Champions League, FC Astana will face off against Montenegrin champion FK Sutjeska Niksic. The match is to be held July 11 at Astana Arena.