Slovan Liberec vs Qarabag will kick off at 19:00 CET/18:00 GMT on Thursday at the U Nisy Stadium in Liberec. Liberec will need a win if they want to preserve their chance to qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament. Qarabag meanwhile could make history, and become the first side from Azerbaijan to reach the round of 32 of the Europa League.
In many ways Qarabag are on the verge of history, as a victory against Slovan will put them through if third placed PAOK loses at first placed Fiorentina. Fiorentina are currently first with ten points, Qarabag are second with seven points, and PAOK follow with three points. Qarabag, however, have beaten PAOK twice, and therefore hold the tiebreaker, which means that they would go through even if the two clubs finish even on points.
Qualifying for the knockout stage would be a remarkable achievement for a club that has been forced to play in exile since the early 1990s. Exiled from their hometown Agdam since 1993 due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the club has been forced to play their home matches in Baku.
Yet the conflict has not prevented the club’s prowess. Led by coach Gurban Gurbanov, a legend who has played for the club and also is the country’s all time top scorer with 12 goals in 62 matches, the club has won the domestic title in the last three seasons.
Reaching the knockout stage would be another major achievement for the club, which is heavily financed by the Azeri food company Azersun—it is understood that the company has been given financial motivation by the government in order to support the club. There has always been a strong sentiment that Qarabag is more than just a club, as the team is in many ways a vivid reminder of the on-going conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
With the club representing a long lost region, and with plenty of government incentive for the players to succeed, Qarabag’s success story is not just a vivid reminder of the conflict in the region, but also highlights how governments support football in order to promote a political cause.
Players to look out for:
Forward Reynaldo is Qarabag’s key player. At the club since 2013 the striker has scored four goals in seven matches this season. Reynaldo would have the talent to play in a major European league, but his slight frame, and injury problems have prevented a bigger career.
Slovan Liberec vs Qarabag – Match Facts:
- Qarabağ have never won against a Czech side (W0 D3 L2). They have drawn the last three of those games, having bowed out to Viktoria Plzeň on away goals after two draws in this season’s UEFA Champions League third qualifying round.
- Liberec have lost their two previous home fixtures.
- Qarabag’s 1-0 victory at PAOK on matchday 4 ended a seven-match unbeaten streak away from home (D2 L5).
Futbolgrad’s Prediction: Slovan Liberec vs Qarabag 1-2
Dubravka – Sykora, Latka, Pokorny, Coufal – Karafiat, Breite – Sevcik, Navratil, Bartl – Baros
Manager: Jindrich Trpisovsky
Sehić – Dashdemirov, Gurbanov, Medvedev, Yunuszade – Aleskerov, Amirguliev, Garayev, Izmailov, Michel – Reynaldo
Manager: Gurban Gurbanov