Belfast Telegraph

A former Everton striker and Barcelona comparisons: Five facts about Qarabag ahead of Linfield's Europa League tie

All you need to know about the side that stand in the way of The Blues and Europa League group stage qualification

Former Everton forward Magaye Gueye and Azerbaijan captain Maksim Medvedev are two of Qarabag's main men.
Former Everton forward Magaye Gueye and Azerbaijan captain Maksim Medvedev are two of Qarabag's main men.

By Gareth McCullough

Qarabag are in town to take on David Healy's Linfield for a place in the Europa League group stages. Time to brush up on your knowledge of Gurban Gurbanov's side:

1. Where they rank

Qarabag currently sit in 70th position in the UEFA Club Rankings co-efficient.

To put that into context, that is two places above recent Premiership champions Leicester City, nine above the mighty AC Milan, 46 ahead of Rosenborg, who knocked Linfield out of this season's Champions League qualifiers, and 136 in front of Scottish giants Rangers.

Linfield, by contrast, currently occupy position number 344. But nobody really puts much stock in these sorts of things, do they?

2. Famous names?

One of their main men is right-back Maksim Medvedev. The 29-year-old is the current captain of the Azerbaijan national team and holds the record for the most appearances in the Azerbaijani League, having played over 400 times - all for Qarabag,  where he came through the youth system at the club.

Another name that might be familiar to local football fans is that of striker Magaye Gueye. The Senegalese striker made 24 appearances, scoring one goal, for Everton between 2010 and 2014, before a slightly more fruitful spell with Millwall  a year later where he found the net five times in 34 appearances. Gueye signed for Qarabag in the summer and hit his first goal for the club in the Champions League qualifier against APOEL.

He's decent, but those stats aren't exactly on a par with Linfield's experienced forward Andrew Waterworth to be fair.

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3. Making European history

They are the first Azerbaijani club to make to the group stages of the Champions League when they qualified in the 2017-18 season and were drawn in Group C alongside Roma, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid.

While they, unsurprisingly, failed to win any of their six matches in the group stages and were trounced 6-0 away and 4-0 at home by Chelsea, they did manage two draws against the Spaniards. A scoreless draw at the Olympic Stadium in Baku was followed up by a 1-1 stalemate at the Wanda Metropolitano, the scene of Liverpool's 2019 Champions League Final win. They actually went in front in the Spanish capital courtesy of a strike by Michel, who will be in the squad for tomorrow night's Windsor Park showdown.

Those draws against their much-lower ranked opponents caused Diego Simeone's men to miss out on qualification for the knockout stages and they had to be content with dropping into the Europa League.

Qarabag played in the Europa League group stage last season, pushing Arsenal all the way in a 1-0 defeat at the Emirates.

4. Playing away from 'home'

While they play their home matches in the country's capital of Baku, the club actually originates from the city of Agdam, a now-ruined ghost town, dubbed the 'Hiroshima of Caucasus'. Qarabag haven't played a game there since 1993, when they were forced to move due to the Nagorno-Karabakh war between the majority ethnic Armenians and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

They were one of the founders of the Azerbaijani Premier League in 1992 and are one of only two clubs, alongside Neftci PKF, to have participated in every Premier League Championship so far.

5. The Boss

Current manager Gurban Gurbanov has been with the club since 2008 and also had a spell as boss of the national team - in tandem with his club role - from November 2017 until December 2018.

Will Linfield manager David Healy or his opposite number be celebrating at Windsor?

The former international striker made just shy of 400 club appearances, plundering 178 goals, though he never actually played for Qarabag, while his international record as a player saw him hit the net 14 times in 68 appearances between 1992 and 2005. Gurbanov has been a keen advocate a nurturing young Azerbaijani players rather than bringing in foreign imports. His focus on a 'tika-taka' style of football has led to the side being dubbed the 'Barcelona of the Caucasus' while Gurbanov himself is widely regarded as one of the best managers in his country's history.

Qarabag manager Gurban Gurbanov will lead his side into battle with Linfield tomorrow night. PIC: Jeff Holmes/PA
Qarabag manager Gurban Gurbanov will lead his side into battle with Linfield tomorrow night. PIC: Jeff Holmes/PA

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