Qarabag FK becomes first Azerbaijani club to reach Round of 16 in a UEFA tournament

The Horsemen made history, surviving a battle with Portugal's Braga to advance in Europa League

Qarabag FK players celebrate during their UEFA Europa League match against Portugal's Braga. The Azerbaijani side is the first club from Azerbaijan to reach the Round of 16 in a UEFA tournament.
Qarabag FK players celebrate during their UEFA Europa League match against Portugal's Braga. The Azerbaijani side is the first club from Azerbaijan to reach the Round of 16 in a UEFA tournament. / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

First-leg victory allows Qarabag FK to move on despite home loss

Qarabag FK and Braga faced off in Baku on Thursday in a UEFA Europa League play-off match. The hosts went into the second-leg contest with a two-goal advantage after stunning the Portuguese side 4-2.

Braga had success in the return match in Azerbaijan and the 90 minutes of regulation time ended with the visitors ahead 2-0, forcing extra time. Qarabag managed to recover and the Azerbaijani team offset another Braga goal by scoring twice, banging home the series winner in minute 120+2.

Thursday's match started out well for Qarabag, who finished the first half confidently. But disaster struck early in the second half when Elvin Jafarguliyev was ejected after being shown a second yellow card leaving Qarabag to fight on with 10 men.

Braga took the lead with Roger Fernandes in the 70th minute and forced extra time thanks to Alvaro Djalo's minute 83 goal. Qarabag gained hope with Matheus Silva's goal in the 102nd minute, but Braga matched it behind Simon Banza's penalty in the 115th minute. The home team grabbed their historic ticket to the next round with Nariman Akhundzade's goal at the death.

Gurban Gurbanov Qarabag Braga  Europa League
Qarabag coach Gurban Gurbanov raises his fist after his team advanced to the Europa League Round of 16. / Anadolu/GettyImages

Despite losing the match 3-2, Qarabag knocked out Braga on a 6-5 aggregate score to take their place among the last 16 teams in Europe for the first time in their history. Not only that, but Gurban Gurbanov's team is the first Azerbaijani club to reach to the Round of 16 in any European competition.

Who are Qarabag and their coach Gurban Gurbanov?

Qarabag Bayer Leverkusen UEFA Europa League
Qarabag FK players pose before a match against Bayer Leverkusen. / Aziz Karimov/GettyImages

Qarabağ Futbol Klubu are a well-known Azerbaijani football club that have risen to prominence despite the adversity of displacement from its native Aghdam due to the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Founded in 1951 as "Məhsul", and then in 1987 as "Qarabağ", the club quickly established itself as a force in Azerbaijani football, claiming its first league championship in 1993 and becoming the first-ever non-Baku-based team to win the Premier League title.

Led by former Azerbaijani football star Gurban Gurbanov since 2008, Qarabag adopted a distinctive style of play characterized by intricate passing and positional fluidity, achieving remarkable success in European competitions.

Under Gurbanov's guidance, Qarabag have dominated Azerbaijani football. In 2014, Qarabag stormed to victory in the Premier League, seizing their first title in 21 years. Since the 2013/14 season, they have been an unstoppable force at home, clinching the league championship every year except for 2020/21. That is an astounding nine titles in the past decade, firmly establishing Qarabag as the dominant force in Azerbaijani football. Qarabağ have won the Premier League 10 times and the Azerbaijan Cup seven times.

Their European journey has been equally impressive, with notable victories over renowned clubs like Red Bull Salzburg and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. In 2017, they made history by becoming the first Azerbaijani team to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage.

This season's peformance in the UEFA Europa Conference League further solidifies Qarabag's status in European football, showcasing their resilience and determination to excel on the continental stage. Qarabag have played more UEFA matches than any other Azerbaijani team.

With a commitment to nurturing local talent and a tactical approach that emphasizes possession-based football, Qarabag continues to defy expectations and carve out a formidable legacy in Azerbaijani and European football alike under Gurbanov's stewardship

Round of 16 Draw: Qarabag Faces Off Against Leverkusen

In the UEFA Europa League round of 16 draw held on Friday afternoon, 23 February 2024, Qarabag FK learned their next challenge: a rematch against Bayer Leverkusen. The German side finished atop Group H – winning twice against Qarabag in the process.

The full list of the Round of 16 matchups:

  • Sparta Praha vs Liverpool
  • Marseille vs Villarreal
  • Roma vs Brighton
  • Benfica vs Rangers
  • Freiburg vs West Ham
  • Sporting CP vs Atalanta
  • AC Milan vs Slavia Praha
  • Qarabağ vs Leverkusen

Dominant Olympiacos eliminates Ferencváros, advances in UECL. Dominant Olympiacos eliminates Ferencváros, advances in UECL. dark. Next

The first legs are set to kick off on March 7, with the return matches on March 14. There is an exceptional circumstance regarding the Sporting CP-Atalanta series. Due to a city scheduling conflict with Benfica who also calls Lisbon home, the first leg has been moved to March 5. This early showdown promises an intriguing start to the Round of 16 action. Football enthusiasts can anticipate thrilling matchups and captivating performances as the Europa League journey continues.