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Season review: Azerbaijan

Published: Friday 27 May 2011, 12.24CET
After six years of waiting, Neftçi PFK finally claimed a sixth title in Azerbaijan while 2010 champions İnter Bakı PİK finished fifth and lost the Azerbaijani Cup final to Xäzär Länkäran FK.
by Erkin Ibragimov
from Baku
Season review: Azerbaijan
Neftçi players carry coach Arif Asadov aloft after winning their sixth Azeri title ©Viktoriya Melnik
Published: Friday 27 May 2011, 12.24CET

Season review: Azerbaijan

After six years of waiting, Neftçi PFK finally claimed a sixth title in Azerbaijan while 2010 champions İnter Bakı PİK finished fifth and lost the Azerbaijani Cup final to Xäzär Länkäran FK.

Something like the established order was restored in Azerbaijan as the nation's most successful club reclaimed the title, but reigning champions İnter Bakı PİK were to have a rough time of it, missing out on Europe with a fifth-placed league finish.

Champions: Neftçi PFK
Six was the magic number for Neftçi; six years (and six coaches) after their last success, they finally took their sixth Azeri title, under Arif Asadov – a former defender whose spell at the club started in the days of the former Soviet Union and who had no previous experience as a top-flight coach. His revamped squad took the tape with three rounds to spare. "Neftçi's main strength is the team, the squad," the 40-year-old said. "Now we'll try to represent Azerbaijan well in the UEFA Champions League."

Cup final: İnter Bakı PİK 1-1 Xäzär Länkäran FK
(aet, Xäzär win 4-2 on penalties)

Second to Neftçi in the league, Xäzär gained consolation with cup success. It was 0-0 after 90 minutes, but while the side led by Romanian Mircea Rednic went ahead in extra-time through Winston Parks, Latvia's Ģirts Karlsons responded for İnter. Goalkeeper Kamran Agayev then saved two penalties to land the trophy for the Shipbuilders. "We couldn't win the title this year, but got our hands on the cup today," said defender Elnur Allahverdiyev. "Neftçi are champions but they didn't win a single match against us."

European places*
Neftçi PFK - UEFA Champions League second qualifying round
Xäzär Länkäran FK - UEFA Europa League second qualifying round
Qarabağ FK - UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
Olimpik-Şüvälan PFK - UEFA Europa League first qualifying round

*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Ruslan Abushev (Neftçi PFK)
At 23, Abushev demonstrated maturity and composure once more, and will have a strong case when the official Player of the Year award is discussed. Already an established presence in the heart of the national team defence, the Neftçi academy graduate also showed he could cut it in the heart of midfield. Now attracting plenty of attention from foreign scouts, a move abroad could yet see his talents honed further still.

One to watch: Rauf Aliyev (Qarabağ FK)
One of the top names on every Azeri coach's summer shopping list, striker Aliyev's goalscoring ability is getting better season on season. Having scored just once in 2008/09 and five times last term, the 22-year-old got ten this time around – none of them penalties – as his side earned a respectable third-placed finish. Committed to coach Gurban Gurbanov's vision, he is eager to show his class in the UEFA Europa League with Qarabağ next season.

Surprise package: Olimpik-Şüvälan PFK
The side from the Baku suburbs caused a major stir by finishing fourth to bag a UEFA Europa League place. Nazim Suleimanov's team made their mark in the autumn with a 5-0 defeat of defending champions İnter, and always held their own against the top sides in the league. But for a tendency to ship points against the clubs below them in the rankings, things might have gone even better, but with a new stadium and a new training base about to open, the side sponsored by Azerbaijan's national airline are flying high.

Leading scorer: Giorgi Adamia, Qarabağ FK (18)

Number: 2
Neftçi never dropped points in more than two successive matches this season, but this is also their second campaign without recording a victory against their nearest rivals Xäzär.

Relegated: Simurq Zaqatala PFK, MOİK Bakı PFK

Promoted: Abşeron Bakı FK, Rävan Bakı FK

"After just one year in Azerbaijan, I do not feel like a foreigner. After I signed my contract at Neftçi I sent a text message to my wife, saying: 'I am in one of the most beautiful cities in the world'. I am really happy that we are champions and that we justified the coach's faith in us. I also have to mention our great president who organised informal team meetings and ran the barbecue himself. Who would dare not to win the title in such circumstances?"
Neftçi's Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia midfielder Slavco Georgievski

Last updated: 08/07/11 16.26CET