UEFA Praises FK Qarabag After Loss to Marseille
Image: Qarabag FK Faceebook
The 2021-2 European football campaign of Azerbaijan’s FK Qarabag ended on February 24 with the team’s 0-3 loss to Olympic Marseille. The score-line doesn’t do justice to an action-packed match where Qarabag had 55% possession, 14 corners, and 20 shots (to Marseille’s 6).
But what made international headlines was the sportsmanship of coach Gurbanov. On the 33rd minute, while trailing 0-1, Qarabag put the ball in the net for what appeared to be an equalizer. The game was being played without VAR (a form of arbitration through video playback), and the officials didn’t see the handball, so gave the goal. However, to most spectators in the stadium, it was clear that the goal should not stand. And Gurbanov himself demanded that his players admit the fact.
At the draw for the Europa Conference League round of 16, Giorgio Marchetti, UEFA’s Deputy General Secretary, gave a special shout-out for Gurbanov’s sportsmanship.
The fact that they were playing in the UEFA Europa Conference League playoffs at all (rather than proceeding directly to the higher rounds) was because they had lost to Basel. Ironically, in that game, Qarabag scored first with a shot that went well over the goal line before a Basel defender kicked it out. Incredibly, the referee didn’t see that the ball had crossed the line, and Basel showed no similar signs of sportsmanship.
Nonetheless, Qarabag’s continuing modest success in Europe remains great news for Azerbaijani football. Indeed they have proved to be one of the most successful soccer teams from the South Caucasus countries since the golden years of Dinamo Tbilisi.
Much that has been said about the team has been linked to its difficult history: originally from Agdam, the team was topping the Azerbaijani league in 1993 when their hometown fell to Armenian attack and occupation. They never got to return home. Nonetheless, from a ‘temporary’ base in Baku, they re-emerged as a powerful source of local footballing talent, especially since Gurban Gurbanov’s appointment in 2008. They have since reached several other landmark international competitions. “On Aggregate” is veteran journalist Thomas Goltz’s film about Qarabag’s oh-so-near European Champions League run in 2014. “Offside – Football in Exile” also looked at Karabakh through football, comparing the relatively buoyant fortunes of FK Qarabag despite the destruction of their home city, with a floundering competitor in the then-breakaway region occupied by Armenia.
In their exciting 2014 run, featured in Thomas Goltz’s film, Qarabag played top Italian team Inter Milan.
These days, with Qarabag’s original home city now once again under Azerbaijani control, there’s every hope that The Horsemen (as the team is nicknamed) will be playing again in Agdam. But in the meantime, it’s great news that they are becoming better known for their football and sportsmanship than for the sadder side of their history.
 whose 1979 defeat of Liverpool remains almost legendary