Author: Sanan SHAFIZADEH
Sixth time in a row. Azerbaijani champion from Aghdam, Garabagh, entered the group stage of European championship again. Having once played in the group stage of the Champions League and five times in the Europa League, the team of Gurban Gurbanov set a new record.
This season, Garabagh began its journey in European competition with a victory over the Albanian Partizan in the first qualifying stage of the Champions League. Then the Azerbaijani champion defeated the Irish Dundalk. But the Cypriot APOEL managed to stop Garabagh from further advancement to the group stage of the Champions League. After an important guest victory (1:2) in Cyprus, two goals of APOEL in Baku ruined all the plans of Garabakh for the Champions League. But the team continued the fight for access to the group stage of the Europa League. The opponent of Garabagh was the semi-professional club Linfield from Northern Ireland, and many thought that Garabagh would pass this barrier without fuss. But in the first game, Linfield won on its home field (3:2), with the last goal of Garabagh scored in the last minutes of the match. Entry to the group stage of the Europa League was secured by Garabagh's victory in Baku (2:1). At the same time, Garabagh pretty much patted the nerves of the fans, because, having scored a quick goal, they could not consolidate the success with another successful attack. Only towards the end of the game, Abdullah Zubir scored the second goal against Linfield, after which the last goal of the Northern Irish was only symbolic.
Garabagh is currently the strongest club in Azerbaijan, which can be seen from the results of the team. However, a number of changes should be noted. In the current season of the European Cups, Garabagh shows quite spectacular, diverse football, which we did not see in previous years. The team creates a lot of scoring chances, actively using flanking passes; it occasionally attacks with almost all the team members. But it must be admitted that of the four rivals of Garabagh, three were rather weak, although they were champions of their countries. In fact, Garabagh demonstrated open, spectacular football in the game with APOEL. Cypriots were lucky, since Garabagh missed many scoring episodes. As we see, the Azerbaijani champion achieves best results when demonstrating attacking football.
Already in the game in Baku with Lindfield, we saw the old Garabagh playing discreet football. But it’s not the game that is remembered, but the result, and most importantly, Garabagh made it to the group stage of the Europa League.
This time the games lasted harder. There was an impression that the team looks weaker than in previous years. Garabagh must strengthen its composition before the group stage. Gurban Gurbanov has only one experienced goalkeeper, Wagner. The playing practice of the second goalkeeper Shahruddin Magomedaliyev is very small, and the team will face big problems if Wagner is injured. New legionnaires of the club, Jaime Romero and Ailton, went through a period of adaptation and joined the team. But the form of Magaye Geye leaves much to be desired, problems with excess weight are clearly visible. Given the injuries of Badavi Huseynov, Filip Ozobic and Dani Kintana, the importance of new transfers is significantly increasing.
Although the team will perform in the group stage of the Europa League for the fifth time, one cannot be content with just this. It is necessary to compete for leaving the group stage. Garabagh will once again participate in three tournaments: the championship and the cup of the country, as well as in the Europa League. Therefore, Gurbanov should actually have two rosters. For a successful game in the Europa League, it is necessary to score goals, and therefore it is imperative to attract a good striker.
Gurban Gurbanov was pleased with the last game of his team: “It was not easy for us. This year we probably created the most scoring situations. It is a great success and we need to work on improving our skills. Although we are again in the group, the Northern Irish team showed that in football there are no weak clubs. Our football players played very disciplined. We had a lot of pressure, as we remained the only representatives of Azerbaijan in European competitions. Playing in such conditions is not easy. Linfield was also very motivated, and enjoyed playing on the defensive… When we first entered the group stage after defeating Twente, I had tears in my eyes. The first success is a completely different impression. Everyone expected us to enter the Champions League, but playing in the Europa League is also very responsible,” Gurbanov said.
He also said a couple of words about possible transfers: “All clubs are now complaining about the transfer market, even Real, Barcelona can’t get the right players. It’s especially difficult for us to find players who fit our style. One player may not have all the necessary skills, so you need to attract several players so that they insure each other. But to carry out 3-4 transfers as you need can be difficult. We are continuing negotiations with several players and hope to strengthen the roster.”
By the way, participation in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League brought Garabagh 1.14 million euros. Entering the group stage of the Europa League added another 2.92 million euros to the club's cashbox. Each victory in the group stage will earn 570 thousand euros, and a draw - 190 thousand euros. The winners of the group stage will receive 1 million euros each, and the teams that take second places (which also provide a way out of the group and continue the struggle in the LE) will receive 500 thousand euros each. As the teams move towards the final of the tournament, the prize pools will also grow, which also motivates.
Unfortunately, Neftchi, Sabail and Gabala failed to break through. Neftchi managed to get past two rivals and lost only in the third stage to the Israeli Bnei Yehuda. The remaining clubs completed the fight at the first stage.
According to the draw for the UEFA Europa League group stage, Garabagh will play in Group A against Spanish Seville FC, Apoel of Cyprus, and Dudelange of Luxembourg. It can be said that Garabagh has a real chance to leave the group stage of the tournament as it can defeat all of its rivals in the group.