FK Olimpik Baku have caught the football community in Azerbaijan by surprise, going into the winter break five points clear at the top of the table.
PFC Neftchi and FK Khazar Lenkoran were expected to be the main contenders for the 2007/08 Azeri title, but instead unheralded Olimpik have stolen the show, to the surprise of everyone except their coach Asgar Abdullayev. "There's such a thing as a Kinder Surprise, but that has nothing to do with our achievements," he joked. "Our lead comes from a combination of hard work from the board, coaches and players."
Khazar are second in the 14-team Yuksek Liga, with club directors paying the price for a lack of foresight in the summer transfer market. A rash of injuries left them barely able to field a first XI in some games, and they went five matches without a win before ending 2007 with a 2-1 victory against Simurq PFC. They have also been reduced to staging fixtures on their training pitch due to the deterioration of the surface at their home stadium.
Neftchi are a point behind Khazar in third position, with Czech coach Vlastimil Petržela having replaced Gurban Gurbanov since the campaign began. The new man has yet to make major changes, but results like their 5-1 mauling by FK Baku back in October suggest an overhaul may be imminent. Striker Branimir Subašić should stay put, however, and leads the scorers charts with ten goals from 13 league appearances.
FC Inter Baku finish 2007 in fourth spot, although they might have been second had they not lost 2-1 at fifth-placed FK Gabala on 2 December. They have some good players and are a better proposition than last term, yet they have been unable to produce consistent results. Baku, in sixth, are also a side with potential but it remains to be seen how Dokica Hadzievski will fare as coach after replacing Hajiyev Boyukaga.
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