Author: Sanan SHAFIZADEH
It is unbelievable but true. The national champion Qarabagh is in the group stage of the Champions League; an achievement the Azerbaijani fans of football have not dared dream of before. It will take some time to realize this historic victory, which is hard to perceive for any football player, fan and even a journalist.
The Champions League is the most prestigious club tournament in Europe attended by the thirty-two strongest teams of the continent. In general, there are more than 600 clubs in Europe and each of them dreams to be among these 32 strongest. Participation of Qarabagh in the Champions League is equal to the victory at the Summer Olympics. This is the highest result in the history of national sports in team sports.
To achieve this goal, the Azerbaijani champion has tried really hard for the last five years. Many were skeptical when at the beginning of this season the club's management and head coach Gurban Gurbanov announced their desire to win a ticket to the Champions League. It was unrealistic to make it there.
The historical triumph of Qarabagh began at the second qualifying stage with the Georgian club Samtredia. Qarabagh scored five unanswered goals in Baku and another victory in a return match (1:0). At the third stage, Qarabagh met with Sheriff FC from Moldova. After a goalless draw in Baku, Qarabagh answered with two goals (Dino Ndlovu and Michel) and became eligible (2:1) to play in the playoffs of the Champions League. Now, to participate in this tournament, the champion of Azerbaijan had to overcome the strongest club of Denmark, Copenhagen FC. Although Qarabagh controlled the game throughout the 90 minutes, the Horsemen managed to score just a single goal. Dino Ndlovu’s strike hit the post, and Mahir Madatov scored the goal just in time. After this result, Qarabagh could even lose with the score 1:2. In a tense match in Denmark, Copenhagen scored the first goal in the first half. In the second half of the game, Dino Ndlovu scored an excellent return goal. However, Copenhagen scored the second goal and stepped forward. In the last few minutes, the representatives of Aghdam defended well and managed to preserve the result, which brought great joy to the entire Azerbaijani people. Although the team lost and the goal scored on the opponent's field secured Qarabagh’s place at the Champions League.
Participation in the Champions League is one of the biggest successes in the history of national sports. To fight in the most prestigious club tournament in Europe means to be in the center of attention for both the club and the country as a whole. Qarabagh will get €12.5 million from UEFA for participation in the Champions League. In return, UEFA receives exclusive rights to broadcast all of the club's games, distribute tickets and advertise in stadiums. The matches of the Champions League are broadcast to 50 countries of the continent and to more than 100 countries of the world. Participation in the Champions League will become a big advertisement for both Qarabagh and Azerbaijan. It will also contribute considerably to spreading the truth about Karabakh to the whole world. Clubs that fight in this prestigious tournament attract the attention of leading managers and clubs of the world. So, Azerbaijani footballers can continue their career in the top European championships in the future. Foreign players interested in playing for Qarabagh will not consider the performance in Azerbaijan a step back. After all, the club participates in the Champions League. This means also the arrival in Baku of a large number of foreign tourists. Fans from neighboring countries will visit Azerbaijan to watch the games of the Champions League.
After the historic victory, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received Qarabagh FC. Highly appreciating the success of the team, president said that he followed the games of Qarabagh: "A new page in the history of football of our country was opened. Football club Qarabagh won a ticket to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. I sincerely congratulate all of you on this historic victory. You gave the Azerbaijani people the joy of victory. In a tense struggle, you once again showed that the Azerbaijani athletes, the citizens of Azerbaijan are attached to his people, the state, is strong, professional and worthy represents our country on the international arena. This historic victory is simultaneously important because it was won by the Qarabagh family, beloved by all of us. The Qarabagh team bears the name of Qarabagh, represents the city of Aghdam, which is under occupation. Therefore, your victory is very important, meaningful. This is not just a sporting victory, it is the victory of our state, the youth of Azerbaijan, patriots. We win wins both on the battlefield and on sports grounds. Just as in April of last year, when the heroic Azerbaijani military freed some of our lands from occupation with courage. Now life is boiling on these lands. The citizens returned to the lands liberated from the occupation, now they live there, and create. Now the flag of Azerbaijan flies over these lands. I would also like to note that the victory was not accidental. You went to this victory for several years. Several times were champions and in domestic championships, several years participated in the group stage of the European League. I remember the previous meeting with you. Then because of the injustice of the judge, you were deprived of victory. I remember that, - I even then noted it, - that, despite the injustice, you behaved very dignifiedly, with restraint, and justice triumphed. In a very tense, open, fair fight you have proved that Azerbaijani football is developing and can win great victories. Therefore, your victory is natural and just. I congratulate the head coach of the team Gurban Gurbanov, he confirmed himself as a professional football player, and as a knowledgeable coach, and as a patriot. Today, Qarabagh competes and will compete with the leading clubs in Europe. Now in the news of all foreign media there are already broadcasts about Qarabagh FC. Of course, this is a very important event in the propaganda of our country. I want to express my confidence that you will represent our country in a worthy manner in the group stage."
By the way, President Aliyev signed an order to allocate ₼2 million to Qarabagh FC.
The opponents of Qarabagh in the Champions League are already known: Chelsea (London), Atletico (Madrid) and Roma (Rome).
ROUP C TIMETABLE
I round, September 12 IV round, October 31
Chelsea - Qarabagh Roma - Chelsea
Roma - Atletico Atletico - Qarabagh
II round, September 27 V round, November 22
Atletico - Chelsea Qarabagh - Chelsea
Qarabagh - Roma Atletico - Roma
III round, October 18 VI round, 5 December
Chelsea - Roma Chelsea - Atletico
Qarabagh - Atletico Roma - Qarabagh
The role of football players and coaches in the historical success of Qarabagh is undeniable. Nevertheless, for a worthy performance in the group, the Horsemen should implement at least two transfers. At the moment, Dani Quintana is injured. Aghabala Ramazanov cannot help the team in such responsible games. Hence, there is only one striker in current composition of the team, Dino Ndlovu. If he is injured, the team will be in a difficult situation. It is expected that before the games of the group stage, Qarabagh will be strengthened, at least, by one striker and one central midfielder.
Four teams represented Azerbaijan in Eurocups this season. Qarabagh continues the performance in the Champions League. Gabala, Zira and Inter fought in the European League. Zira and Inter dropped out of the tournament on the second, and Gabala - in the third qualifying stage.
Now, as part of a big football family, Azerbaijan will host the matches of the Champions League at least until January. The fans will be able to follow the matches the internationally famous clubs such as Chelsea, Roma, and Atletico. The fans have already started counting the points of Qarabagh in the group stage. Let's just support the champion of Azerbaijan and enjoy great football.