Underdogs No Longer: Qarabağ Have Shown They Are a Force to Be Reckoned With

Gurban Gurbanov’s side’s thrilling games against Braga and Bayer Leverkusen gave Azerbaijani supporters bragging rights over their South Caucasian counterparts.


History shows how difficult it can be lining up against an opponent with no ambition beyond packing the defence, especially for Azerbaijani football clubs. But there is no denying Qarabağ might have an advantage if they can bring the physicality of Azerbaijani football into the international stage. Usually, that has been impossible.


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Times change, though, and this season has a very different context. Qarabağ, bluntly, did not expect to come this far. Qarabağ manager Gurban Gurbanov, has shown a knack for drawing the best out of his teams on the big occasions. His switch to an untested 4-3-1-2 formation in the second leg against Braga caught the Portuguese side off guard and allowed Qarabağ to swamp the midfield, privileging the natural physicality of Yassine Benzia, Marko Janković and Abdellah Zoubir.


That said, Qarabağ have goals elsewhere: Toral Bayramov and Patrick Andrade are capable of cutting in to score from the flanks, as is the 27-year-old Juninho, who has been in scintillating form since September. The Horsemen are solid at the back, too, where Bahlul Mustafazade has proved a brilliant signing. They can also rely on an excellent goalkeeper in Andrey Lunyov. Russia’s No 1 has emerged as a true shot stopper.


Whenever Qarabağ have gone far in major tournaments, they have tended to grow into it after difficult starts. The Horsemen appear to be gelling well in defence and have a good balance too. It’s incredibly difficult to create goalscoring opportunities against them, but there is a lot of room for improvement going forward.


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Nariman Akhundzade, in particular, is yet to produce his best, although there were some promising signs from him against Braga. There are a lot of words you could use to describe this new and improved Qarabağ team – but surely underdog is no longer one of them. 


In the turbulent world of Azerbaijani football, there are few names that command as much respect and awe as Gurban Gurbanov. From his humble beginnings in Zaqatala, Azerbaijani, to his meteoric rise as one of the country’s greatest athletes, Gurbanov’s journey is nothing short of legendary. 


‌Gurbanov delivered Qarabağ ’s first title in 20 years, reached the Champions League and did it all with his sensational football.‌ But more than that, much more than that, Gurbanov deserves to be remembered as a man of the people who connected with the fans and people of the country.


As we peel back the layers of Gurbanov’s memorable career, we uncover not just a footballer, but a force of nature. From his early days playing for Dashgin Zagatala to his time at Dynamo Stavropol, Gurbanov’s raw talent and determination were evident to all who witnessed his exciting performances on the pitch. But it was his managerial move to Qarabağ in 2008 that truly cemented his status as a legend. 



It is Gurbanov’s steadfast work ethic, his burning desire to continually improve, and his rigid commitment to pushing himself beyond the limits of what many believed possible. Whether it’s his strict training regimen, his careful attention to detail in analyzing rivals, or his pure hunger for victory, Gurbanov’s dedication to his craft is unparalleled.


Qarabağ players would run through brick walls for him. Look at the way they embrace him after games. Gurbanov has put Qarabağ back among European football’s heavyweights.  Qarabağ’s brand of exciting football has caught the eye so much so that Gurban Gurbanov is regularly linked to bigger clubs. Lazio and Beşiktaş are regularly touted as potential destinations for Gurbanov in the coming years.


His appeal to European clubs is obvious: he is multilingual, progressive in his approach, well-dressed and humbled, recognised as one of the best managers in post-Soviet sphere and, at 51, young enough to potentially establish himself as a dominant manager of the next few decades.


Gurbanov has been a fan favourite in Azerbaijan amid the success he’s brought and his passion on the touchline, with him giving his heart and soul for the club. He has a way of getting the best out of everyone that surrounds him and also makes them feel very special at the same time.


By: Fuad Alakbarov / @DrAlakbarov

Featured Image: @Juanffrann / Aziz Karimov – Stringer