Qarabag vs Atlético Madrid – Wednesday, October 18, 17:00 GMT/18:00 CET at the Bakı Olimpiya Stadionu.
This will be the first-ever match between an Azeri and a Spanish side. At the same time, there is plenty of history between Atlético Madrid and Azerbaijan. For a long-time Atlético were sponsored by the Azeri Ministry of Tourism and sported the slogan Land of Fire on their chest. Atlético Madrid even travelled to Azerbaijan to play a friendly against FC Baku.
Although football player interviews taken at the time with players from Atlético were positive about the experience the deal between the club and Azerbaijan proved controversial as it was seen as a bit of a propaganda effort. Azerbaijan have a poor human rights record and was often accused of spreading its political message through the usage of sport. The Ministry of Tourism for example also approached clubs in South America and Italy to increase it’s commercial platform abroad.
The decline in the oil and gas prices, however, has meant that Azerbaijan nowadays focuses primarily on sponsoring UEFA competitions, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SCOAR) sponsors UEFA national team competitions, regional competition and domestic football clubs among them Qarabag Agdam.
Qarabag Agdam’s success, in fact, is the result of substantial state sponsorship into local clubs. Investments in infrastructure, youth academies and foreign coaches, as well as players, has meant that Azerbaijan is nowadays by far the most competitive of the three former Caucasus Republics. Qarabag Agdam, for example, have reached the group stage of a UEFA competition for a third time in a row. Other clubs like Qabala have also shown success in recent years.
Qarabag, however, is unique as the club also represents the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which was lost to the country in a conflict with Armenia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ownership of the territory remains disputed and although occupied by Armenia Azerbaijan has a legitimate claim to regain the territory.
Forced into exile Qarabag play their home games at the brand new Baku Olympic Stadium. Qarabag are therefore more than a club they represent an entire region lost to Azerbaijan and as such the government has ensured that the organization has all the funds necessary to be successful. But even with the finances and the infrastructure available Qarabag are still outsiders in this highly competitive Champions League group that also includes Chelsea, as well as Roma and anything but a defeat on Wednesday, will be a big surprise.
Qarabag vs Atlético Madrid – Players to look out for:
Mahir Madatov #11 – Qarabag
The 20-year-old Azeri left-winger Mahir Madatov has been the revelation of the still young Azeri Premyer Liqasi. The dynamic winger is a product of Qarabag’s youth academy, and early indications show that he could become a symbol of the progress of football in the country scoring five goals in the first six matches of the season.
Fernando Torres #9 – Atlético Madrid
The legendary 33-year-old forward Fernando Torres is nearing the twilight of his career. An Atlético Madrid product Torres returned to the club in January 2015 after spending time with Liverpool, Chelsea and AC Milan. The former Spanish national team striker has picked up two European Championships a World Cup and one Champions League title throughout his career. In his last two seasons with Atlético, he also demonstrated that he still has a knack for scoring goals netting eight goals and six assists last season and eleven goals and four assists the season before that. This year, however, he has been left off the score sheet and seen his role diminish. With Diego Costa returning from Chelsea in September Torres could even leave the club this January—he has been heavily linked with a move to Mexico. Atlético head coach Diego Simeone will likely use the match against Qarabag for some squad rotation, which could provide Torres with some much needed playing time.
Qarabag vs Atlético Madrid – Match Stats
- This is the first ever fixture between an Azeri and Spanish team.
- The Spanish side played a friendly against FC Baku in 2013, winning 3-0 with Diego Costa—who returned to Atlético in September but is not in their UEFA Champions League squad—scoring one of the goals.
- Going for their fifth successive Azerbaijani title, Qarabağ have 19-points from seven league matches this season, six more than they had at the same stage last term.
- The 2-1 loss to Chelsea on matchday 2 of the UEFA Champions League is Atlético’s only defeat in their last 14 matches in all competitions, a sequence stretching back to early May.
Futbolgrad’s Prediction: Qarabag vs Atlético Madrid 0-2
Qarabag vs Roma – Possible Lineups
Kanibolotsky – Agolli, Guseynov, Rzezniczak, Medvedev – Michel, Richard – Madatov, Quintana, Elyounoussi – Ndlovu
Manager: Gurban Gurbanov
Oblak – Filipe Luis, Godín, Savić, Juanfran – Gabi, Ñiguez – Carrasco, Nico Gaitán – Torres, Griezmann
Manager: Diego Simeone
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and social media editor at Bundesliga.com. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.