Vadim Furmanov –
Backell Arena, Baku (Capacity 15,000)
Note: Qäbälä’s usual ground is Qäbälä City Stadium, but will play their European matches at Backell Arena in Baku
Qäbälä Europa League Preview
Founded in 2005, Qäbälä FK are one of the youngest clubs in the competition—only FC Krasnodar and FC Astana were founded more recently.
They first gained entry the Azerbaijan First Division, the country’s second-highest division, but finished top of the table and immediately gained promotion to the Premier League. In 2010 the club appointed Arsenal legend Tony Adams as manager, and though he lasted less than two season at the helm, he remains at the club as the Director of Football.
Two seasons ago manager Roman Hryhorchuk, who moved to the club from Chornomorets Odessa in Dcember, led the side to a third place finish, equaling their best ever result. More impressively he guided them through three qualifying rounds and a playoff against Panathinaikos to gain a place in the group stage of the Europa League. Qäbälä ended up finishing last in a group with Krasnodar, PAOK, and Borussia Dortmund, and picked up two points through two scoreless draws with the Greek side.
Last season Qäbälä again finished third in the league, and once again under Hryhorchuk they have passed through qualifying and playoff rounds to make the group stage. Among the teams they knocked out was French side Lille, 5th in Ligue 1 last season.
Know your oligarch:
The club is controlled by the Gilan Holding group, a company that belongs to Kamalledin Heydarov, the Minister of Emergencies in Azerbaijan. In typical post-Soviet fashion, the company holds a stake in a wide array of interests, including tourism, retail, and finance.
The public face of the club is Heydarov’s son, Tale Heydarov. The younger Heydarov, educated at the London School of Economics, is the Chairman of the European Azerbaijan society and oversees a number of other initiatives that promote the country’s integration with Europe.
Qäbälä have been drawn in a group with Anderlecht, 1. FSV Mainz 05, and Saint-Étienne. Anderlecht were runners up in the Belgian league, Mainz finished 6th in the Bundesliga, and Saint-Étienne were also sixth in Ligue 1. Overall, it is a fairly kind draw. Each of their opponents were among the three sides with the lowest coefficient in their respective pots. But then again, so were Qäbälä themselves.
What to expect:
Just like last season, the fact that Qäbälä were able to navigate through the tricky qualifying rounds and reach the group stage is by itself an impressive achievement—only Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv also started at the first hurdle and ended up in the group stages.
Having already eliminated the 5th-placed French side in the qualifying rounds, they will feel confident against a team that finished 6th in the same league. The other fixtures are also not as intimidating as they could have been, and while Qäbälä are still newcomers to European competition, they are expected to improve on last year’s mediocre display.
Futbolgrad Prediction: 3rd
Vadim Furmanov is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Originally from Ukraine, Vadim has resided in Chicago since 1994 and is a passionate supporter of both Dynamo Kyiv and the Ukrainian national team. He is also a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and a member of the Fire’s Section 8 supporters group. He writes primarily about Ukrainian football, as well as the intersection between football, politics, and history. You can follow Vadim on Twitter @vfurmanov.