The UEFA Europa League second leg playoff tie Qarabag vs IFK Göteborg is headed to Azerbaijan. The Swedes hold a slim advantage after winning the first leg 1-0 at the Gamla Ullevi in Göteborg.
But, with the match heading back to Azerbaijan’s national stadium, the Tofig Bahramov Republican Stadium, which FK Qarabag Agdam uses as their home ground for international football, the 1-0 advantage of the Swedes is just a slim margin to overcome.
Indeed, the Azerbaijanis, who were part of last season’s Europa League group stage, know how to overcome adversity, as the the club hails from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a territory which is disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and is currently held by Armenian forces.
As a result, Qarabag are not able to play in their hometown Agdam (read more on the story here), and the club now plays their home games at the brand new 5,800 capacity Azersun Arena in Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku—although Qarabag will play their European matches at the 31,000 seater Tofiq Bahramov Republican Stadium in Baku.
In 2014, Qarabag became only the second Azerbaijani club to qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Europa League (the first was Neftçi Baku in 2012). In the same season, Qarabag also became the first Azeri club to win a Europa League group stage match when they beat Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 1-0.
Now the Azerbaijanis will look to, once again, reach the group stage of the Europa League, but they must win the match with a two-goal differential in order to advance.
Unlike most European competitions, the Swedish Allsvenskan season runs throughout the calendar year and, while Göteborg finished the 2015 season in second place, this year, the club is performing inconsistantly and is only in fourth place. Recent results by Göteborg, especially, should give Qarabag cause for some optimism, as the Swedes lost their away game against Hammarby IF on the weekend 2-0—the same score line should be enough for Qarabag to advance.
Furthermore, the 18 time Swedish champion—their last title dates back to 2007—and two time UEFA Cup winners (1982, and 1987), have never participated in the group stage of either the Champions League or the Europa League.
In fact, the last time the Swedes made it past the first round of a European competition was in the 1987 UEFA Cup (the predecessor of the Europa League) when they ended up winning the competition after a 2-1 aggregate victory against the Scottish club Dundee United.
Qarabag Agdam, meanwhile, are the current Azerbaijani champion, and the club was only narrowly eliminated by the Czech champion Viktoria Plzen in the UEFA Champions League third round qualifiers. After playing 0-0 in the Czech Republic, Qarabag only managed a 1-1 draw in Azerbaijan, which saw Viktoria advance to the playoffs on the away goal.
Hence, Qarabag’s manager, Gurban Gurbanov, now has his sights set on the Europa League group stage, and the club’s recent 3-0 victory against Neftchi Baku, shows that the club has the form to overcome the negative result in Sweden.
Sehic – Agolli, Guseynov, Medvedev, Sadygov – Garayev, Muarem – Michel, Dani Quintana, Richard – Reynaldo
Manager: Gurban Gurbanov
Alvbage – Jamieson, Bjärsmyr, Rogne, Salomonsson – Eriksson, Petersson – Ankersen, Smedberg – Ómarsson, Boman
Manager: Jörgen Lennartson