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Season review: Azerbaijan

Published: Sunday 16 June 2013, 11.59CET
Neftçi PFK landed their third league title in a row and eighth overall, before clinching a domestic double by overcoming Xäzär Länkäran FK on penalties in the Azerbaijani Cup final.
by Oqtay Atayev
from Baku
Season review: Azerbaijan
Nicolás Canales (right) enjoyed a fine season at Neftçi ©AFP/Getty Images features

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Published: Sunday 16 June 2013, 11.59CET

Season review: Azerbaijan

Neftçi PFK landed their third league title in a row and eighth overall, before clinching a domestic double by overcoming Xäzär Länkäran FK on penalties in the Azerbaijani Cup final.

Neftçi PFK successfully defended their Azerbaijani Premier League title, finishing top of the pile for the eighth time, before setting the seal on a domestic double by outwitting Xäzär Länkäran FK on penalties in the cup final. They also became the first team from Azerbaijan to advance to the group stage of a UEFA competition, memorably holding FC Internazionale Milano to a 2-2 draw at San Siro en route to finishing bottom of UEFA Europa League Group H.

Champions: Neftçi PFK
Runaway leaders for the majority of last term, the holders were made to work harder for their success this time round, finishing a mere three points above nearest rivals Qarabağ FK. Boyukagha Hajiyev's team plundered a league-high 59 goals and were breached just 32 times.

Cup final: Neftçi PFK 0-0 Xäzär Länkäran FK (aet, Neftçi win 5-3 on pens)
The capital club found stubborn resistance in their quest for the double. Xäzär, who finished ninth in the top flight, frustrated the champions throughout and almost snatched a memorable victory, only for Sadio Tounkara to squander the best chance of the match. However, with neither team able to break the deadlock in 90 minutes or extra time, the destiny of the cup was determined by penalties. Neftçi held their nerve, and captain Rashad Sadygov struck the winning spot kick.

European places*
Neftçi PFK – UEFA Champions League second qualifying round
Qarabağ FK – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
İnter Bakı PİK – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
Xäzär Länkäran FK – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round

*subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the Year: Nicolás Canales (Neftçi PFK)
His signing raised a few eyebrows at first, but the Chile forward silenced his critics by topping the scoring charts with 28 league goals. The 27-year-old's predatory instincts often proved the difference in delicately balanced games and played a decisive role in Neftçi's slender championship triumph.

One to watch: Javid Taghiyev (Olimpik-Şüvälan PFK)
With new regulations enforcing each club to field at least one player under the age of 21, an opportunity arose for a whole raft of raw talents. Taghiyev was arguably the best of the lot, maturing rapidly while drawing wide acclaim for scoring one of the goals of the season. 

Surprise package: Simurq PFK
The team who were only established in 2005 poured scorn on their underdog status by securing fourth place ahead of pre-season favourites Bakı FK and Qäbälä FK. Much of their success can be attributed to up-and-coming Georgian coach Giorgi Chikhradze, whose tactical nous has taken the Phoenixes to another level.

Leading scorer: Nicolás Canales, Neftçi PFK (28)

Relegated: Käpäz PFK, Turan Tovuz PFK

Promoted: Qaradağ FK, Ağsu FK*

*subject to final confirmation by the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA).

Number: 3
The narrow margin by which Qarabağ lost out on a first championship crown since 1993.

"We're not Real Madrid, where several individuals make the difference. Everybody can see that this is a collective success, from the bus driver to the president." Neftçi vice-captain Mahir Shukurov underlines the champions' team ethic.

Last updated: 17/06/13 1.53CET