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Azerbaijan Submits Croatia As Neutral Venue For Next Nations League Game

By Timucin Turksoy November 4, 2020

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Baku Olympic Stadium / Wikimedia Commons

The Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) has appealed to UEFA to approve Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb as a neutral venue for the next match of the men’s national football team in the Nations League tournament.

AFFA reported that the game between the national teams of Azerbaijan and Montenegro scheduled for November 14 can be played in Croatia.

“Our national team will play a friendly match against Slovenia on November 10 in Ljubljana, and the reason for offering Zagreb is its proximity to Ljubljana,” AFFA explained in a statement issued last week.

UEFA disallowed Azerbaijan to host football competitions in its territory given the ongoing armed clashes between the Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. The temporary suspension of home games pushed the national football association, as well as the local football clubs, to propose alternative venues for the matches to be played within UEFA tournaments.

The ongoing hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out on September 27 after Armenia’s forces deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled heavily military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. The non-stop artillery attacks prompted counter-offensive measures by the Azerbaijani army to push back the enemy. Intensive deployment of military material by both sides amidst the escalating tensions led to full-scale clashes.

Armenia has regularly targeted civilian settlements, including hospitals, schools, residential buildings, a police station, a cotton plant, a hydropower station, and energy pipelines in multiple cities of Azerbaijan. Armenia’s forces killed 91 civilians and wounded 405 others in Azerbaijan, as well as destroyed and damaged around over 2,480 houses, 97 multi-apartment residential buildings, and 461 civil facilities as of November 3.

The national men’s football team of Azerbaijan stands currently at the third place with four points gained in four games in the Group 1 of the UEFA Nations League C. Luxembourg and Montenegro come in first and second spots respectively (nine points each), while Cyprus is the group’s outsider (one point).

Meanwhile, UEFA has already approved the neutral stadium submitted by the Qarabağ FK football club of Azerbaijan. The Başakşehir Fatih Terim Stadyumu in the Turkish city of Istanbul has played a host to Qarabağ FK vs Villarreal match of the UEFA Europa League on October 29. Villarreal outclassed the Azerbaijani champions 3:1.

After two games played, Qarabağ FK gained no point sharing the third and fourth places with the Sivasspor football club of Turkey in the Group I of the tournament. The first and second places are claimed by Villarreal (Spain) and Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC (Israel) respectively. 

The home town Aghdam of Qarabağ FK has been under Armenia’s occupation since 1993. The city, including the club’s home turf Imarat Stadium, was destroyed completely by Armenia's forces. It is currently a “ghost town” with no signs of life. Since the occupation of Aghdam, Qarabağ FK has been playing its matches in the capital Baku of Azerbaijan.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades-old conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan but occupied by Armenia. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan that lasted until a ceasefire deal was reached in 1994. Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. Over 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were killed and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing policy conducted by Armenia.

Despite four UN resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied lands and the return of internally-displaced Azerbaijanis to their native lands, Armenia has refused to pull its forces out of the occupied territories.