Author: Nadir SANANOGLU
The national football team of Azerbaijan started in September in the new UEFA Nations League. The matches with Luxembourg and Cyprus were the first ones for the new head coach of the national team, Italian specialist Gianni De Biasi. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. De Biasihad to make his debut without proper preparation. Under his leadership, the team could not even play friendly games, while the last official match was on November 19, 2019, when Slovakia won 2:0 at the finish of the Euro 2020 qualification round.
Everyone waited for the first game with Luxembourg on September 5 with some extent of fear. Although many still consider Luxembourg as a ‘dwarf’ country, the Luxembourgers could guarantee a draw with the world champion – the French national team in the selection for Euro 2020. Thus, the Azerbaijani national team had a difficult match due to a combination of factors: the new head coach De Biasi's lack of proper knowledge of his players, as there was little time to get to know the players, and the absence of Azerbaijan national team fans at the match.
As a result, the match with Luxembourg turned out to be very difficult for our team and ended in defeat (1:2).
De Biasi chose a 4-4-2 lineup for the game: Bahlul Mustafazade and Badavi Huseynov as central defenders, Maxim Medvedev and Anton Krivotsyuk as full-backs, Gara Garayev, Elvin Jamalov, Tamkin Khalilzade and Namig Aleskerov as midfielders, Ramil Sheydayev and Mahir Emreli as attackers. Emil Babayevwas the goalkeeper.
The national team started the match very hesitantly and there was no sense in the actions of players. In addition, in the 26th minute, the team remained in minority, as Emreli got a red card at a seemingly benign situation, when he kicked the opponent in the centre of the field.
As a result, the national team had to play most of the match with 10 players, who, as expected, played in defense. At the end of the first half, the national team was lucky: in one of the counterattacks, Sheydayev made a good cross from the right flank with his head. For the Azerbaijani national team, which went for the break with a one-goal advantage after showing an extremely poor game, it was a perfect score. The second half of the game started very badly. Anton Krivotsyuk made an auto-goal, hencelevelling the score (1:1). After that, the Azerbaijani national team practically avoid attacks and remained in defense for the rest of the game. The Luxembourgers took the initiative and controlled the course of the game methodically and confidently storming the gates of the Azerbaijani national team.
To change the situation, De Biasi began replacements. First, Renat Dadashov replaced Sheydayev on the field. Then he replaced Namig Aleskerov, who made the assist leading to the only goal of the team, by Adil Nagiyev. But this change was fatal for the Azerbaijani team. In the 72nd minute, Nagiyev unexpectedly interrupted the flank pass with his hand deserving a penalty (2:1) and with no option to recover. The last substitution made by the coach was ambiguously perceived by the specialists: Araz Abdullayev entered the field instead of Tamkin Khalilzade. In addition, specialists have questions about the absence of Neftchi's captain Emin Mahmudov on the field.
Thus, the debut of De Biasi and the Azerbaijani national team in the new draw of the League of Nations was unsuccessful. Perhaps there are objective reasons for this associated with the pandemic. So, the Italian specialist did not have a chance to test the players and train themas he considers necessary. In addition, some players complained about the load after the very first training sessions. Given the time pressure, De Biasi physically exhausted his players. As a rule, the first game after such heavy workouts is very difficult for players, which was also confirmed in the game with Luxembourg.
Also, De Biasi is still not very familiar with the players and their potential. Due to the lack of friendly matches, the head coach have to experiment directly during the official games. Therefore, mistakes, which among other things affect the final result, are natural.
After the defeat from Luxembourg, three days later, the Azerbaijani national team was to play with Cyprus. Our opponents also unsuccessfully started the tournament in the Europa League, losing at home to Montenegro (0:2). So everyone expected a duel of two losers. Considering the poor performance of our team in the earlier game with Luxembourg, there were no particular hopes for a positive result with the Cypriots.
De Biasi chose a defensive scheme against the Cypriots: five defenders (Bahlul Mustafazade, Maxim Medvedev, Abbas Huseynov, Badavi Huseynov, Anton Krivotsyuk) and two midfielders (Gara Garayev, Elvin Jamalov). It seemed that the Italian specialist hoped to win at least one point. However, the beginning of the game showed that over the past three days De Biasi was able to get to know his players better, and also studied the problems of the Cypriots well. From the very first minutes our team, due to active pressure in the centre of the field, carried out numerous attacks. The national team regularly created dangerous situation at the opponent's goal, but the eternal problem of our footballers prevented them from scoring the first goal. In the end, one of the positional attacks did bring results - a good goal was scored by the team's captain Maxim Medvedev. In the first half, the Azerbaijani national team, unlike the match with Luxembourg, could score not one but several goals.
In general, the tactics chosen by De Biasi allowed our players to play actively not only in attack, but also to defend competently. The Cypriots could not get close to the Azerbaijani gates, preferring mainly strikes from the distance. In the second half, the Azerbaijani national team began to play more to keep the score, but, nevertheless, did not allow the hosts to create dangerous moments at their gates.
The match with Cyprus was also remembered for the confident play of a debutant - Rahim Sadikhov. The player of Sumgayit FC could show the best sides of himself. If this 24-year-old, who was remembered with his rational movements on the filed, accurate passes and self-confidence, continues to work on himself, he could become one of the leading players on the national team.
No matter how we criticize the national team, we must remember that the players do not have many options to select from. At the same time, the game with Cyprus showed the ability of the national team to demonstrate a good game. On the other hand, Gianni De Biasi needs time to get acquainted with Azerbaijani football, players, and the local mentality. The idea that after the victory in Cyprus the national team develops rapidly will be self-deception. Let's not forget that the Cyprus national team is also going through a generational change, there are problems with mutual understanding among the players. The Azerbaijani national team played in Cyprus as much as the rival allowed, and won in the end. But this does not mean that other rivals will allow us to play the same way.
It will be possible to evaluate the Azerbaijani national team after the games in the League of Nations in October: away with Montenegro and at home with Cyprus. By this time, the players will be in good shape, and De Biasi will know them better. Time will show. In the meantime, let's enjoy the first victory of our team after a two-year break.