Qarabag have made history and became the first Azeri club to play in the European Champions League. Yossi with the bright and dark parts of the club's identity and history.
The Weekend Guide is hungry for a title, so we have three top matches for you:
the Veterans against the debutants in Azerbaijan, the dominant team in Guyana, and a visit to the Pacific and the league of Papua New Guinea.
(All the hours are in CET local time)
Amateur (Like this handshake)
What? Qarabağ – Zira (Azerbaijan Premier League)
When? Saturday, 1500
Where? Karabakh Stadium, Baku
Why? The reigning champions of Azerbaijan, Qarabağ, are running for their third consecutive domestic title, as they watching the league from the 1st place with 48 points. Meanwhile, Zira are making a sensational debut season in the top tier, as they are in 2nd place, 4 points behind Qarabağ.
Key Players: Two players lead the top scorers table with 8 goals each. The first is Richard Almeida, Qarabağ’s Brazilian, who is having a great season so far with additional 4 goals in Europe. The second one is Zira’s Nelson Bonilla from El Salvador, who played previously in Romania.
Money, Money, Money: The Azeri second tier is not so competitive and the winners are being decided by their bank account and not their professional bility. Last season, Zira promoted from the 6th place, while another team, Kapaz, promoted from the 9th place.
Professional (like this guy)
What? Alpha United – Slingerz (Guyana Elite League)
When? Sunday, 2300
Where? Bourda Cricket Ground, Georgetown
Why? In the newly created Elite League of Guyana, it seems that we will have a tough contest for the title. Alpha United were 5-times champions in the old National Super League. Now, they are in the 1st place, as the winners of the opening stage, Slingerz are in 2nd, trailing by a single point.
Alpha United’s 36 years old Anthony Abrams is the star of his team with 4 goals in 3 games. From the other side, look at Vurlon Mills of Slingerz, that spent some of his career abroad in Trinidad and Tobago.
Continental Monopoly: Alpha United are the only team from Guyana to play at the CONCACAF Champions League group stage, doing it twice in 2012 and 2015.
World Class (like that match)
What? Lae FC – Hekari United (Papua New Guinea National Soccer League)
Where? Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium, Lae
Why? After three matches in the championship round, we have two contenders left in the title race. The guests, Hekari United, won eight consecutive domestic titles, until Lae FC won their first title in the last season. Both of the teams won all their games in the championship round, which team will be the first to lose points?
Key Players: The striker of Lae, Raymond Gunemba, is one of the dominant forwards in the league, making him also part of the national squad. In Hekari United you should watch for Koriak Upiaga, which was part of the club Champions League squad in 2010.
Have Some Experience: Frank Farina, the great Australian manager and nowadays Fiji national team manager, got some experience with Pacific teams. He managed Papua New Guinea during 2011 Pacific Games and 2012 OFC Nations Cup, finally left in 2013.
One weekend, three games, Worldwide. All the information.
We are getting closer to end of April and for some leagues, the real action is starting now. As usual on our recap, we will check great excitement and atmosphere in three lucrative matches. We will make another visit to Azerbaijan; we will be with the Eternal Derby of Serbia, and for desert, a tight race for the title in Venezuela. Here-we-go!
(All the hours are in CET local time)
Saturday, 1600, Qarabağ - Neftchi Baku (Azerbaijan Premier League)
As the stories about Azerbaijan, corruption and football are known and open, let's take a look into the Azeri domestic league. This weekend, the leading teams, Qarabağ and Neftchi Baku, will clash for a decisive match. Both of the teams also qualified to the Azeri cup final, and will meet once again for another title.
Qarabağ is one of the teams who play in Baku, but it wasn't really up to their call. Previously, the team had played in Agdam, but the fights in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Azeri-Armenian border made the town a dangerous ghost city. The team is playing in Baku for over 20 years. They are getting closer to another title, leading the table by 10 points with five games left. The club is having great season, as they also missed the Europa League last 32 spot to Inter, only by a referee mistake. Pay attention to Reynaldo, the club's top scorer with 9 league goals. Another Brazilian, Richard Almeida is also a talented figure, Muarem Muarem, Macedonian midfielder who scored the decisive goal in the Europa League playoffs against Twente, and Leroy George, who was one of the leading players on last season Qarabağ's squad. More interesting faces are Vüqar Nadirov, who became the second player in the club history to make 200 league appearances, and Ansi Agolli, the veteran Albanian who previously played in Switzerland, Finland and Ukraine.
Neftchi Baku is one of the richest teams in Azerbaijan. After decades that the team was recognized with the oil workers of the low-middle class, the rich state-owned oil company, SOCAR, became its main sponsor. After 3 consecutive titles, Neftchi failed to win the title last year, and now they are trying to keep their Europa League spot, as they’re at the 3rd place. The big stars of the team are Nicolás Canales, who returned to Neftchi after one season in his homeland Chile, Flavinho, a dominant Brazilian in the squad, and Ernest Nfor, Cameroonian striker that arrived to Azerbaijan after 8 seasons in Belgium.
With the hopes for further development in the Azeri football, without corruption or human rights vaiolations, both of the teams will be part of great fight at the country’s top flight football.
Saturday, 1800, Crvena Zvezda – Partizan Belgrade (Serbian Superliga)
One of the highlights of the season is the clash between the two biggest rivals in the league, and when the title is on the line, it's even bigger. On Saturday, the Eternal Derby (Večiti derbi) will be played in Belgrade.
Crvena Zvezda, known also as Red Star Belgrade, was the dominant team in the Yugoslav football until 1992. 19 championships, four out of the last five titles of former Yugoslavia, historical Champions Cup and Intercontinental titles in 1991, were all part of the club’s glorious trophy cabin. Since Yugoslavia's breakup, Crvena Zvezda failed to retain its past success, but they still manage to win the title for time to time, as they managed to do last term. This season they are ranked on 2nd place, five points from Partizan. The leading players of the team are Predrag Rajković, who was part of the Serbia U-19 European Championships winning squad in 2013, Darko Lazović, which after 6 years will leave Crvena Zvezda for Genoa in the end of the season, and Savo Pavićević, who played 39 times for Montenegro national team.
Partizan Belgrade, the team who won 25 domestic titles, want to do it once again. Since Yugoslavia was teared apart, they became the dominant side of Serbia, with six titles out of the past eight. This year,they are close to make it once again. A victory on Saturday will increase the gap to eight points with six games in the jack-pot. The key players of the team are Saša Ilić, 37 years old player who came back 5 years ago after long travel in Spain, Turkey and Austria; Branko Ilić, who made 58 caps for Slovenia national team, and Nikola Drinčić, who scored the winning goal in the teams' last meeting.
Group of fans of both clubs were involved in the Balkan's wars during the nineties, and that is indispensable part of this rivalry. We can write more and more about this match, but let us leave the stage for those fans – Crvena Zvezda's Delije (The Studs) and Partizan's Grobari (The Gravediggers). That’s just Priceless.
Sunday, 2200, Deportivo Táchira – Zamora (Venezuelan Primera División)
It's the final days of the Venezuelan Clausura, and three teams are still contenders for the first place. In Venezuela, the Apertura's and Clausura's champions meet in the end of the season for a two-leg final, and the winner is crowned as champions. After Trujillanos’ Apertura title, it's the chance of Deportivo Táchira and Zamora to win the Clausura title.
Deportivo Táchira is one of the most successful teams in Venezuela: they won seven domestic titles and they are the most capped Venezuelan team in the Copa Libertadores, with 18 appearances. They are ranked on 2nd place, one point behind the leaders, Caracas, but played one match less. Their main players are the striker Gelmin Rivas, who scored 38 league goals in 67 games since he arrived at the club, the midfielder César González, who made 56 caps for Venezuela national team, the striker Yohandry Orozco, who came back to Venezuela after two years in Wolfsburg, and the defender Jorge Alberto Rojas, who won four league titles, the first back in 2001.
Zamora is one of the most improving teams in Venezuela. They were established in 2002, made their Primera Division debut in 2006, and they are Venezuela champions at the past two seasons. The team's success came mainly thanks to Adelis Chávez, former local bank vice-president and the brother of the former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. This season they are on 3rd place, two points from the top. There are few talented youngsters in the squad such as Jhon Murillo, 19 years old striker who scored on his first and only cap for the national team, and Yeferson Soteldo, 17 years old midfielder who makes his debut season in the senior team, but there are also some veteran players that plays for years in Zamora like the defender Moisés Galezo and the midfielder José Torres.
A three-way race for the first place with two matches left. The 2nd and 3rd teams are fighting for the same spot. The stress is up high, but only one team will smile and continue its run for the title.
Land of Fire campaign in world football uncover a suspicious relationship between Azerbaijan and Europe.