With two games already played this week, football (soccer) teams from the Caspian region are eager to make it through the first qualification stage of the 2019/2020 UEFA Champions League – the top European football tournament.
On Tuesday, Kazakhstan’s team Astana crushed CFR Cluj from Romania, scoring a decisive goal in the second half of the game and interrupting the team’s seven-year unbeaten run. Yevgeny Postnikov, age 33, scored the winning goal during the 69th minute of the game, held in Astana Arena in the country’s capital Nur-Sultan (formerly called Astana).
“It was very difficult as Cluj acted as one in defense; we went on the attack almost with the whole team,” said Postnikov after the match, according to reports by Footboom.
“I think that our coach noticed the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. This is a shaky advantage, but it is very important that we did not miss at home. We will try to give all our strength and fight for each other and for Kazakhstan,” he added.
Astana’s only group stage run in the UEFA Champions League was during the 2015-2016 season.
The team will next square off against Cluj at the Konstantin Radulescu stadium in Romania on July 17. The winner of that game will move on to the second qualifying round within the Champions League, where it will play against Israel’s Maccabi. The losing team will qualify for the second round of the Europa League.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s team Qarabag kept the Albanian team Partizani at bay with its win in Tirana, which ended 0-0 on July 10.
“Qarabag is superior to the teams we played with before,” said Alban Hoxha, the goalkeeper of the Albanian team, according to reports by Azerisport.
The game played in Selman Stermasi stadium in Albania’s capital city will be followed by a match in Baku on July 17.
The 2019/2020 UEFA Champions League first qualifying round games will be the fifth run for the Azerbaijani club, nicknamed “horsemen,” for making it to the group stage.
The only time Qarabag won the right to play in the Champions League was in the 2017/2018 season. It is the only Azerbaijani team to ever be represented in what is Europe’s ultimate football tournament.
The 2019/2020 UEFA Champions League season is its 65th. The final of this season will be played at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey on May 30, 2020. The winners will earn the right to play against the winners of the 2019/2020 UEFA Europa League within the 2020 UEFA Super Cup. They will also qualify to enter the group stage of the 2020–21 UEFA Champions League.