Viktoria Plzen vs Qarabag FK – Champions League Preview

Viktoria Plzen vs Qarabag FK – Champions League Preview

Viktoria Plzen vs Qarabag FK will represent a matchup between two teams that are relatively experienced in European competitions. But while Plzen has already managed to participate twice in the UEFA Champions League group stage, Qarabag are still attempting to qualify for their first dance at the big show.

Qarabag Agdam are anything but an ordinary club, in that the team from Azerbaijan 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 it is expected that 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.

Yet Qarabag’s success is not without controversy, as the Azerbaijani state has obviously used the club as a propaganda vehicle in the on-going conflict with Armenia, and has turned the club, as it has Azerbaijani football in general, into an advertisement tool for Azerbaijan’s Land of Fire football campaign.

Qarabag receives significant financial contribution from the Azerbaijani government via its main sponsor, the Azersun Holding Group, which also financed the new stadium. Abdolbari Gozal owns Azersun, and his family have strong links to Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev. Gozal’s family also hold positions at the club; Tahir Gozal, for example, is the president of the club.

Yet, the club is more or less run by former Azerbaijani football star Gurban Gurbanov, who has built the club mostly by using local talent. Some of the club’s biggest stars, however, are foreigners such as the Brazilian striker Reynaldo, the Brazilian midfielder Richard, and the Spaniard Míchel.

Gurbanov has been known to play an attractive tiki-taka (a term that loosely describes clubs that attempt to play offensive football) style of football. Whether the club’s style will be good enough to beat the Czech champion, remains to be seen.

Those who have followed Viktoria closely in recent years will have noted the defensive approach of the club. The club’s defensive style and their significant level of experience will make Viktoria the slight favourites for the confrontation between the two clubs. Yet, Qarabag will do their utmost to become the first Azerbaijani club to reach the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

By Manuel Veth –