Cyprus-Azerbaijan match will take place in front of empty stands – why is this good for fans?
At 20:45 Central European Time in Cyprus today, the group stage of the Nations League football match between the local national team and the national team of Azerbaijan will start.
The history of these two countries’ national teams and their competition with each other is rife with fights in the stadiums and inappropriate behaviour from footballers as well as fans.
The political context of the game
In light of the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, today’s game promises to be a fight in more ways than one. Many people in Azerbaijan consider the southern part of Cyprus to be no more than an “enclave” of Greece, and Azerbaijan has shown absolute support for Turkey.
A few days ago, President Ilham Aliyev gave the Greek ambassador a literal ultimatum, expressed in the most diplomatic way, during their meeting in Baku, while also stating his full support for the actions of Turkey.
Aliyev said, “We whole-heartedly support Turkey and will continue to support Turkey… They support Azerbaijan in all issues and we support them in all issues, including with intelligence operations in the Eastern Mediterranean”.
Better the devil you know?
In the summer of 2015, in the city of Larnaca on Cyprus, the local club Apollon and the Azerbaijani club Gabala met in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League. Right away the players from the Azerbaijani club encountered a shower of profanity from the stands in Turkish and English.
The Cyprus team’s fans tried to burn an Azerbaijani flag, but were stopped by the police. However, the match, which ended in a 1-1 draw, finished off with a real fight, featuring participation from players and members from both teams.
Another battle took place in 2019 in Azerbaijan, during a game between the Gabala FC and APOEL youth teams. The fight started after “excessive” celebration following a goal by the by Cypriots. This match also ended in a draw, with the same score – 1-1.
Returning to the 2015 game between Apollon and Gabala, we are reminded of the tragic consequences of the match. A few days after the match, in Baku…
…a journalist was killed
A footballer on the Azerbaijani team, Javid Huseynov, converted a penalty and displayed a rude gesture to the stands. His careless action angered the already agitated fans of the local club.
The day after the game, the Azerbaijani journalist Rasim Aliyev criticised Huseynov’s actions after scoring the goal.
On 8 August, 2015, a group of people attacked Aliyev near his home and severely beat him, later leading to his death in hospital.
The guilty parties, who turned out to be acquaintances of Huseynov, were arrested. The footballer himself was also detained.
Why no audience?
Due to coronavirus the UEFA has decided that all international matches are to be played with empty stands under its own supervision.
Fans are only able to watch the matches on television. This should be considered a reasonable way to prevent any more direct clashes between the Cypriot and Azerbaijani fans.
After their loss to Luxembourg (1-2) on 5 September on their home field, the national team has expressed scepticism about their chances for success in today’s match.
Here are a few characteristic comments from Azerbaijani social media:
“Don’t forget to take your umbrella when watching today’s match. We’re expecting a shower of balls into our goal”.
“I expect our team to lose horribly. To be honest, I’m not even bothered by it”.
“Better not to watch the game. It’s gonna be one big disappointment”.