By Rashid Shirinov
The most awaited day for thousands of football fans in Azerbaijan has come – Qarabag FC will today face the English champion Chelsea in the match of UEFA Champions League 2017/18.
For the first time in the history of the Azerbaijani football, Qarabag FC will play in the group stage of the Champions League, and this is a big holiday for all Azerbaijanis.
Qarabag FC arrived in London two days ago and yesterday the team had its final training before the match with the English football giant.
Following the training, which was visited by Vice-President of the club Tahir Gozel, footballers of the Azerbaijani team seem all ready to face Chelsea. The only notable problem of the club is the injury of its Albanian defender Ansi Agolli.
The club, which is seeking to become the champion of Azerbaijan for the fifth time in a row, began its Champions League campaign in mid-July in the second qualifying round. Wins over Georgian FC Samtredia and Moldovan FC Sheriff took the team to the playoff, where it beat Danish FC Copenhagen and advanced to the Champions League group stage thanks to an away goal. The 1-2 defeat in Denmark was Qarabag’s only loss in the last 20 games in all competitions.
Following the draw results, Qarabag got in the Group C to face such giants of the European football as English Chelsea, Italian Roma and Spanish Atletico Madrid.
Qarabag’s coach Gurban Gurbanov insists his team is unfazed by facing Chelsea in their Champions League debut.
“We are not scared of any of them [Chelsea FC],” Gurbanov said. “They have one of the best coaches in Europe [Antonio Conte] and they have some of the best players in Europe.”
The coach added that even though Chelsea is an icon in the Champions League and has a big chance to win the competition this season, Qarabag is ready and is going to play until the end, ESPN FC agency reported.
“We know Chelsea is going to make us be defensive. That doesn't mean we are going to spend 90 minutes in defense. We are going to attack as well,” Gurbanov said.
The match between Qarabag and Chelsea will start at Stamford Bridge stadium in London today at 19:45 (GMT+0).
The next game of the Azerbaijani champion in the competition will take place in two weeks, on September 27, against Roma.
Qarabag will play the home matches in Baku, 365 kilometres away from their native city of Agdam, the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan that neighboring Armenia keeps under occupation for over two decades.
FC Qarabag is among few clubs worldwide with a refugee status. After the occupation of Agdam in 1993, the team was compelled to leave the hometown and settled in different cities.
Rashid Shirinov is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @RashidShirinov
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