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Azerbaijani football's finest hours

Qarabağ FK have emulated Neftçi PFK by reaching the UEFA Europa League group stage; what better time to celebrate Azerbaijan's greatest footballing coups.

Neftçi's Rashad A Sadygov (No6) takes the acclaim against Inter
Neftçi's Rashad A Sadygov (No6) takes the acclaim against Inter ©AFP/Getty Images

Qarabağ FK are proud to be flying the flag for Azerbaijan in the UEFA Europa League group stage and eager to become the first team from the 'Land of Fire' to pick up a victory at this level. "We are not going to give in to any opponents," said coach Gurban Gurbanov. As UEFA.com discovers, local clubs and the national side have prided themselves on standing up to bigger rivals since Azerbaijan became a UEFA member nation 20 years ago.

Landmark results
Serbia and Montenegro 2-2 Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan 2-1 Serbia and Montenegro
UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying

For many years, Azerbaijan's primary goal looked to be avoiding coming bottom of their qualifying group. These were landmark results, however, the first – in Podgorica – coming after Serbia and Montenegro had gone two in front; now Qarabağ coach, Gurbanov netted twice to earn his country a point. He also restored parity in Baku, Farrukh Ismaylov scoring the winner in added time. "It's very nice to score in the dying seconds, especially if your goal is a winner," said Ismaylov. "I know that many fans will remember this match."

Reeling in Russia
Azerbaijan 1-1 Russia
2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying
Azerbaijan 1-1 Russia
2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying

Rauf Aliyev takes on Russia
Rauf Aliyev takes on Russia©AFP/Getty Images

These were two especially creditable draws considering Russia's far greater resources. Indeed the Russians had already prevailed 2-0 in Moscow by the time of the Baku tie. Four years later, Russia found it even tougher going against Azerbaijan, being forced to wait till late to win at home before another 1-1 draw in the Azerbaijani capital.

Defeat of Turkey
Azerbaijan 1-0 Turkey
UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying

Guus Hiddink was in charge of Russia for those Azerbaijan encounters and was again in the dugout – this time Turkey's – for this fixture. Turkish-based Rashad F Sadygov struck in the 38th minute on this occasion. "All teams are better at their own stadiums and luckily we were able to use our home advantage," said the Azerbaijan captain.

Draw in Milan
FC Internazionale Milano 2-2 Neftçi PFK
2012/13 UEFA Europa League group stage

Clubs have enjoyed similar success in recent years. Fans often put domestic allegiances to one side when Azerbaijani outfits are involved in European competition – the only target that matters is reaching the group stage of the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League.

Neftçi were the pioneers after a 4-2 aggregate triumph over APOEL FC that secured their place in the 2012/13 UEFA Europa League group stage. They proved testing opponents and picked up three points, drawing twice with FK Partizan and once with Inter. "I am not shocked, it is very difficult to surprise me," said Neftçi coach Boyukagha Hajiyev. "But I am definitely in a good mood."

Qarabağ join party 
Qarabağ 0-0 FC Twente
Twente 1-1 Qarabağ
2014/15 UEFA Europa League play-offs

Qarabağ have followed in Neftçi's footsteps two years later by making it to the group stage at the fourth attempt. Their next ambition is to become the first Azerbaijani club to register a victory in the competition proper. "It will be a massive experience for us," said Gurbanov. "We will do our best to make our fans happy."