Fun Facts About Tottenham’s Rival Qarabağ FK

White Hart Lane
White Hart Lane /

View image |

What’s that? You’re not aware of the oft-heated grudge between Tottenham Hotspur and Averbaijani Premier League chamions Qarabağ FK? The one that straddles the line between professional and personal? What about all the tears, the sweat and the occasional blood spilled as these two legendary clubs vie for transcontinental supremacy?

No, neither have we. But it’s fun to imagine, isn’t it?

In reality, this will be the first time these two sides have met in each other’s history. In a strange twist, it is actually lowly Qarabağ that will be disappointed to be meeting opposition like Spurs. While Tottenham only qualified for the Europa League by finishing fifth in the Premier League last term, Qarabağ actually won it all in Azerbaijan and thus gained entry into the Champions League early stages. They made it through the first round against Montenegran side Rudar Pljevlja but failed to see past Scottish Premier League champions Celtic.

POPULAR: What Is Dele Alli’s Best Position at Spurs?

Losing meant being dropped down to the playoff round for the Europa League, where Qarabağ completely unraveled Swiss side Young Boys 4-0 over two games to gain access to the group stage.

And so Qarabağ must settle for an opening game against Spurs. That doesn’t mean their job will be easy. Against the likes of Anderlecht, Monaco and Spurs, they are cast in the role of the prerequisite far-flung underdog of any Europa League group. That label doesn’t actually do them justice, however. Little Qarabağ might just be more of a formidable opponent than anyone suspects.

More from Hotspur HQ

It sounds strange, but Azerbaijani football is on the definite rise. Qarabağ are one of two representatives in this year’s Europa League group stage, with last term’s third place finishers Gabala FK playing against the likes of Borussia Dortmund and PAOK in Group C. Other Azerbaijani teams Inter Baku and Neftchi Baku also qualified but were dropped out in the early rounds of the tournament. The country itself has seen its UEFA coefficient rise over successive years, leaving them in 26th place as of September 2015.

These might not seem like impressive figures and facts, but from a league that averages less than 2,000 spectators per match it’s quite an accomplishment. Add to that, the fact that the related financial woes threaten to shrink the league even lower than its current ten teams, and their ranking comes off as especially impressive. Their positioning guarantees them access to the Champions League qualifiers as well as the Europa League, tournaments that only add to the clubs’ prestige and revenue streams.

Such a rise is made still more impressive when you consider how much hardship Qarabağ itself and the league has had to endure since its founding in the early 1990s. The dissolution of the Soviet Union brought renewed hostilities among its former member republics, in particularly Azerbaijan and Armenia. That conflict actually drove Qarabag from its original home on the country’s western border, Agdam. They relocated to the Azerbaijani capital of Baku in the early 90s and have stayed their ever since.

Managed since 2008 by Azerbaijani coach Gurban Gurbanov, Qarabağ has come a long way to find themselves again atop the Azerbaijani Premier League table. They won the league in its second year but had failed to reclaim that honor until 2014, a wait of 21 years. As defending champions they actually managed to best their efforts from the prior term, winning the Azerbaijani Cup as well as the league again in 2015.

Composed of a core of Azerbaijani players surrounded by a mix of Brazilians, Spaniards and a ragtag collection of other Europeans, Qarabağ has found a rhythm that they hope to take with them to White Hart Lane on Thursday. Far from being a representative of football’s backwater, they might be capable of a few legitimate surprises. Hopefully they’ll save their best for Anderlecht and Monaco though.

Next: Tottenham Loan Watch: Nathan Oduwa