The Qarabag FK football (soccer) team from Azerbaijan has climb to new heights in sports fame within the Caspian region, after its game against Spain’s Atletico on November 1 ended in a score of 1-1.
The match was part of the Union of European Football Associations Champions League (UCL) games, and was played in Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium on Wednesday.
“It was a hard game [and] our players fought till the end against such a strong team,” Qarabag’s manager Gurban Gurbanov said in a post-match press-conference in Madrid, according to reports by APA Sport. “We’re, for the first time, in the Champions League. We don’t want to stop; we are intending to open our potential more.”
Qarabag’s Spanish midfielder Michel sent a header towards the goal in the 40th minute of the game to put his team ahead of two-time UCL finalist Atletico, in what was the first half of the game. Atletico’s response came 11 minutes past the start whistle during the second half, with an equalizer by Ghanaian Thomas Partey in the game’s 56th minute.
Qarabag fell short of its forward Pedro Henrique 30 minutes before the final whistle, when the Brazilian was sent off after getting a red card for what was deemed a dangerous play against Atletico defender Diego Godin. However, Azerbaijan 10-man Qarabag team did not allow Atletico to score its second goal, thanks to a firm performance by its goalie Ibrahim Shehich, who earned the title “Man of the Match.”
"We became anxious, nervous. The result isn't what we wanted and we know that right now we're having problems with scoring,” Atletico’s head coach Diego Simeone said during the post-match news conference, according to Goal.com. “Explanations are excuses. We weren't precise, and Qarabag scored."
Qarabag’s performance in Madrid was widely covered, as the team climbs out from its regional standing and receives wider notice in Europe and throughout the world.
The Spanish newspaper Marca wrote, "Atlético played a game on Halloween and endured a nightmare on the year's scariest night." ESPN’s London office came out as saying, “Atleti held again. Qarabag dealt another blow to Atletico Madrid's hopes of making the last 16.”
Qarabag also made a bit of history for Spain’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium, Atlético Madrid’s home stadium since August. It became the first away team to score the opening goal of a game. Atletico played against FC Barcelona, Chelsea FC, Sevilla FC and Villarreal FC in the same stadium prior to squaring off against Qarabag.
While the Spanish and Azerbaijani teams were battling each other, Roma played against Chelsea and clinched a 3-0 home win in what was the night’s other Group C match. After playing four games, Roma leads the group with eight points, ahead of the number two place holder Chelsea, which has seven points. Atletico ranks third, with three points, while Qarabag’s two points puts it in fourth place.
In other football news from the Caspian region, CSKA Moscow won its fourth UCL group stage match against FC Basel 2-1, which was played in St. James Park stadium in Basel, Switzerland. FC Spartak, also representing Moscow, is squaring off against Slovenia's Maribor in Group E today, at the Ljudski arena in Maribor.
Qarabag will play a home game against Chelsea in Baku on November 22, as part of the fifth group stage game. Roma will travel to Madrid on the same day, to take the pitch against Atletico.
Qarabag is not just a flag carrier in football in Azerbaijan; it is a source of pride for Azerbaijanis, and considered an example of resistance to foreign aggression.
Hailing from Aghdam, a city located near Azerbaijan’s Nagorno Karabakh region, which has been occupied by Armenia since the early 1990s, the team was forced to relocate to the country’s capital city, Baku, after Aghdam and the club’s home turf, Imarat Stadium, was decimated during a war fought from 1988-1994. Qarabag now plays its home games at both Tofig Bahramov and Olympic Stadiums, in Baku.