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'Azeri Chelsea' ponder Europe

Published: Friday 1 June 2007, 10.12CET
FK Khazar Lenkoran took a maiden Azerbaijani double this season but coach Agasalim Mirjaradov is keen to see them earn their spurs in the UEFA Champions League.
by Erkin Ibragimov
from Baku
Published: Friday 1 June 2007, 10.12CET

'Azeri Chelsea' ponder Europe

FK Khazar Lenkoran took a maiden Azerbaijani double this season but coach Agasalim Mirjaradov is keen to see them earn their spurs in the UEFA Champions League.

FK Khazar Lenkoran took a maiden Azerbaijani double this season but coach Agasalim Mirjaradov is keen to see them earn their spurs in Europe.

Biggest achievement
Prior to this season, Khazar's biggest footballing achievement was to win the Azerbaijan Cup in 1987, in the days of the old Soviet Union. With the team being disbanded in the mid-1990s, Lenkoran remained without a top-tier side until local businessman Mubariz Mansimov revived the club, who have quickly earned a reputation as an Azeri Chelsea FC. With better funding than their domestic rivals, they brought in notable Turkish striker Oktay Derelioğlu while top players like Emin Guliyev, Makhmud Gurbanov and Zaur Ramazanov joined in the summer of 2005. However, for all of their manpower, Khazar were unable to pick up wins consistently prior to the appointment of coach Mirjaradov last summer.

Local hero
The coach is regarded as one of Azerbaijan's finest, having won league titles with FK Karabakh, FK Shamkir and PFC Neftchi, and it was no surprise when he continued that successful streak at Lenkoran this season. "Every title is memorable for me," he said. "I am very happy I won the league in my first year at Lenkoran. The most important thing is that we managed to create a united squad, a real family here. Now we have to improve in the UEFA Champions League."

Fatal slip
The title race was a close one. While Lenkoran had led the table by eight points at the midway point in the season, Neftchi roared back producing ten straight wins. However, Gurban Gurbanov's side's failure to beat FK Olimpik Baku in the penultimate round of the season saw them slip from the top of the table, allowing Lenkoran to take the crown.

Prolific striker
The star of their season was 29-year-old Ramazanov, who scored 20 goals to top the rankings. He had previously scored the same number in the 2004/05 campaign at FK Karvan Evlakh. Ramazanov's difficult reputation did not deter Mirjaradov and the striker responded in kind. "It is easy to score goals in the Azeri league," smiled Ramazanov. While Lenkoran will line up in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, Neftchi and beaten cup finalists MKT Araz will head for the same round of the UEFA Cup. FK Baku will compete in the UEFA Intertoto Cup after finishing third. FK Shahdag were relegated after ending up just a point adrift of FK Genclerbirliyi Sumgayit.

Last updated: 30/01/12 7.07CET

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