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Season review: Azerbaijan

Published: Wednesday 11 June 2014, 8.58CET
Qarabağ FK celebrated their first league title since 1993 and second overall, while Neftçi PFK – champions for the past three seasons – again won the cup on penalties.
by Oqtay Atayev
from Baku
Season review: Azerbaijan
Qarabağ pretty much led the table from start to finish ©Victoria Melnik features

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Published: Wednesday 11 June 2014, 8.58CET

Season review: Azerbaijan

Qarabağ FK celebrated their first league title since 1993 and second overall, while Neftçi PFK – champions for the past three seasons – again won the cup on penalties.

Qarabağ FK ended a 21-year wait for their second Azerbaijani title, sewing up the Premyer Liqasi with two matchdays to spare after a 4-1 home victory over second-placed İnter Bakı PİK. Champions for the past three seasons, Neftçi PFK ended the campaign in fourth but took solace from winning the cup final against Qäbälä FK, who achieved a top-three finish for the first time.

Champions: Qarabağ FK
Qarabağ finally did what they had been threatening since 2010 and won the league. Having finished third, third, fourth and second in the previous four campaigns, Gurban Gurbanov's men finally came good as they scored the most goals (66), conceded the fewest (21) and registered the greatest number of wins (21). The Horsemen led the way virtually all season and could even afford to lose their last two games after securing the championship in style with a Reynaldo-inspired success against closest pursuers İnter Bakı. "This league is a marathon – it was a long but steady road for us," said Gurbanov, the Azeri national team's all-time top scorer with 14 goals. "We succeeded because we worked hard and were hungry to be winners."

©Viktoriya Melnik

Neftçi celebrate winning the cup

Cup final: Qäbälä FK 1-1 Neftçi PFK (Neftçi win 3-2 on penalties)
Neftçi partially atoned for their league travails by winning Azerbaijan's second biggest trophy. Having beaten John Toshack's Xäzär Länkäran FK on penalties in the 2013 decider, the Oil Workers prevailed on spot kicks once more, against a Qäbälä side coached by former Russia trainer Yuri Semin and playing in the showpiece for the first time. Goalkeeper Saša Stamenković was the shoot-out hero for Neftçi after Qäbälä's Marat Izmailov – on loan from FC Porto – had cancelled out Samir Masimov's 50th-minute opener. "It was a proper final," said relieved Neftçi coach Boyukagha Hajiyev. "It was not easy but our team proved again that we can make any other side sweat."

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

*subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Reynaldo (Qarabağ FK)
Rashad F. Sadygov was given the 2012/13 Player of the Year award in December, but Reynaldo was the star performer in 2013/14. Qarabağ's most dangerous player, the 24-year-old Brazilian midfielder is also one of the best foreigners to have graced Azeri football. Possessing great vision and a canny ability to read the game, the February 2013 signing from RSC Anderlecht was prolific in front of goal, scoring 22 times in the league and on a further five occasions in Europe as Qarabağ progressed from the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round to the play-offs.

One to watch: Abdulla Abatsiyev (İnter Bakı PİK)
The Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) edict that every top-flight team should have at least one Under-21 player in their starting XI continues to bear fruit. While Neftçi winger Araz Abdullayev and Qarabağ defensive midfielder Qara Qarayev stood out, the real revelation of the season was Russian-born Abdulla Abatsiyev, who was granted Azeri citizenship in 2009. A central midfielder, the 20-year-old scored İnter's 500th league goal in December and gained his first senior cap in Azerbaijan's 2-0 friendly defeat by the United States on 28 May.

©Viktoriya Melnik

İnter Bakı rallied after a bad start

Surprise package: İnter Bakı PİK
Traditionally one of the country's top clubs, İnter endured their worst start to a season, winning one and losing five of their first six games. Few expected them to mount a challenge, but, after a show of patience from the board, coach Kakhaber Tskhadadze repaid their faith with an unexpected second-place finish. "Nobody took us seriously after the first six matchdays, but we came to life and I consider this second-placed finish as a success," the Georgian coach concluded.

Leading scorer: Reynaldo, Qarabağ FK (22)

Relegated: Rävan Bakı FK*

Promoted: Araz-Naxçıvan PFK
*subject to final confirmation from AFFA

Number: 2
A four-time league champion as a player, Qarabağ coach Gurbanov became the second man after Arif Asadov to win the title as a coach too.   

"For me, there is no difference in a team finishing second or fifth. I recognise just two titles: the title and the cup. I made history in Azeri football and if I am wrong, dear journalists, please take your phones and hit me on the head with them. I am the encyclopaedia of Azeri football."
Neftçi coach Boyukaga Hajiyev reminds the media who is the font of all football knowledge in Azerbaijan

Last updated: 11/06/14 8.58CET

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