Qarabag manager Gurban Gurbanov insists his side will have to be ‘very careful’ when they take on Dundalk in their Champions League second-round qualifier first-leg tie on Wednesday.
The 47-year-old is certainly worth listening to. As a player, he won four league titles and is Azerbaijan’s all-time leading goalscorer with 14 goals in 68 matches. His managerial career is just as good, with five league titles and four cups to his name.
Gurbanov spoke to the Irish media at Qarabag’s training session at Oriel Park 24 hours before the game and he said he was impressed by the Lilywhites in their first-round win over Riga.
“As we saw in the previous qualification games with Riga, Dundalk played better in the first game but their best game was in the second leg,” said Gurbanov.
“They have very quick and rapid players,” he added. “They are very good in midfield but we have to concentrate on their collective game and not on the personal players.
“No matter if they are playing at home or away, they have a good tactical analysis of their opponents. They have very good rapid players and beginning from the coach, I know they have a very desirable collective. We have to be very careful.”
Qarabag qualified for the second round with a 2–1 win over Partizani. The first leg in Albania finished scoreless before Qarabag finished the job with a 2–0 win in Baku last week. Despite his concerns about the artificial pitch at Oriel Park, Gurbanov, however, said he wouldn’t be content with a 0–0 draw in Ireland.
“We were satisfied with the first game as we passed our way through qualification but this match with Dundalk will be very tricky,” said Gurbanov.
“Sure, the pitch will impact the game. We would prefer to play on natural grass but we have no time to speak about the pitch. We just have to concentrate on our opponents. Generally, we would like to win the game here and we can’t say if a draw would be in favour of us. We will have to see how the match goes.”
Gurbanov knows what it takes to navigate the qualifying rounds of European competition. With 35 wins, he is the most successful Azerbaijani manager in history. In 2014, he led Qarabag to the Europa League group stages and followed that up by advancing to the Champions League three years later.
With the financial clout of Azerbaijani conglomerate Azersun Holding behind them, failure to advance past Dundalk would be seen as a huge blow for the club, even if Gurbanov was reluctant to admit as much.
“In every game there is pressure,” he said. “We just have to concentrate on what happens on the pitch. We know that we have a very hard and tough opponent and we have to adjust to the pressure of playing Dundalk and not other terms. We are only thinking about tomorrow’s game. Nothing more than that.”
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