The journey for this week’s final UEFA Europa League group game is the longest away day in the team’s history. A good 3,400 kilometres lie between Freiburg and Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, where Qarabağ Futbol Klubu, originally from Ağdam, have played since 1993. Around 600 SC fans are travelling to support the team on Thursday evening at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium.
Making the longest away journey having already won the group
Christian Streich’s men guaranteed last Thursday that they would be still playing in Europe in the new year. The 1-1 draw against Olympiakos after four wins in SC’s second season in the Europa League group phase means the side have 13 points from five games, and have already won the group and qualified for the last 16 taking place in March 2023.
This doesn’t change the fact that the team want to celebrate a group stage win in Baku. “It is obviously a special trip for all of us, I have been been to Azerbaijan before and the same definitely goes for most of the others,” said Yannik Keitel in the press conference before the game, which took place in the Europe Park prior to the flight from Basel. “Every game in the Europa League is a huge experience. We are really looking forward to it and definitely want to win the game,” said the midfielder.
SC managed to win the first home game against Qarabağ, and the opening game of the Europa League season, 2-1. “It was an extremely important game for our team,” emphasised Christian Streich, “This win to start gave us a lot of self-confidence and security.” The team will be able to count on a healthy dose of this after the 2-0 win against FC Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga last Sunday. The game is in the middle of the seventh multiple gameweek of this season. “What is helpful is the experience of winning,” said the SC head coach, “We are not short of this at the moment, which obviously helps.”
Sallai returns to the squad
Streich has already announced that there will be personnel changes to the starting eleven against Qarabağ FK compared to the game in Gelsenkirchen. What these will be, will not be known until matchday. “I don’t want to say anything concrete,” said Streich.
The trio of Manuel Gulde, Jonathan Schmid and Merlin Röhl will not make the journey to Azerbaijan (all returning to training). Roland Sallai is back in the squad after a long injury lay-off. The attacker made his first appearance after injury last Sunday in a Drittliga game for the U23s against VfB Oldenburg.
The hosts go into the final Europa League group game with seven points and in second place with a one points lead over FC Nantes. If the French side fail to win their final game against Olympiakos, this will be enough for Qarabağ to enter the play-off round against the teams who finish in third place in the UEFA Champions League.
Strong hosts and an exciting opponent
The second game will be a very intense game according to Yannik Keitel, who suggested that the Azerbaijani champions have very good attacking players and play with a lot of intensity, also off the ball. “So I was impressed by Qarabağ and am excited for the second meeting.”
Christian Streich also likes the style of play that his colleague Qurban Qurbanov, who has been head coach of Qarabağ FK since July 2008, plays. “Qarabağ is a very strong team that I like a lot, because they play in a way that brings joy to the people watching.”
That should also be the experience of the Freiburg fans, says the SC head coach, first in the last European game of this year in Baku and then three days later at the Europa Park for a Bundesliga game against 1. FC Köln (Sunday, 6th November, 17:30 CET).
“Now, we are all going on an extraordinary journey together,” said Streich on Wednesday. “Then we will all come together again and want to play really well against Köln. But now all that counts is against Qarabağ.”