The World Cup is over, but the love for football (soccer) never dies for fans and athletes in the Caspian region, where sub-national teams are already contemplating strategies to qualify for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) 2018-2019 Champions League. On Wednesday, two teams – one from Azerbaijan and another from Kazakhstan – finished their first qualifying matches on a good note.
Azerbaijan’s Qarabag team, known locally and in European football parlance as FC (“football club”) Qarabag, eliminated Slovenia’s NK Olimpija in the wake of a two-legged tie, to make it through the second qualifying round of the Champions League season. The first game, which took place at Arena Stožice in Slovenia’s capital city of Ljubljana on July 11, ended 1-0 in Qarabag’s favor. A second game, played at Tofig Bahramov stadium in Baku on July 18, ended in a final score of 0-0; but the aggregative win propelled the five-time national champions to the next stage.
Qarabag’s second stage rival will be the Albanian football team Kukës, which outshined Malta’s Valletta as a result of home and away games. The first segment of the Qarabag-Kukës game will be held on July 25 in Shkoder, Albania, and the second game will be played in Baku on August 1.
FC Astana from Kazakhstan, for its part, played hard and sent Montenegro’s team Sutjeska packing, ending with a score of 3-0 overall after playing two games. Astana won the away match 2-0 at Gradski stadium in the city of Nikšić in Montenegro on July 18, after playing a home game at Astana Arena on July 11.
The Dutch team Midtjylland will square off against Astana in the second Champions League qualifying round. The matches that will decide the second qualifying round winner will be held in Astana on July 24 and August 1 in Herning, Denmark.
Two teams from Russia will represent the Caspian region directly at the group stage without playing qualifying matches. Lokomotiv Moscow headed up to the top-class European club football tournament as the winner of the Russian premier league, while CSKA Moscow followed, as runner-up.
The 2018–2019 UEFA Champions League season is the 64th edition of Europe's ultimate club-level football tournament organized by UEFA. The final of this season will be played at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain sometime next year.