President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has received members of "Qarabag" football club which reached the playoffs of the UEFA Conference League.
President Ilham Aliyev said:
- Dear friends.
Dear representatives of "Qarabag" football club.
I sincerely congratulate you on your new achievement. "Qarabag" football club has once again delighted the Azerbaijani fans and all the Azerbaijani people.
This victory once again shows that "Qarabag" football club is the flagship team of Azerbaijani football. This is not the first time that "Qarabag" has achieved great success in international competitions, deservedly represents our people and country in the international arena. These successes are not accidental. Because I know that the club's management, coaching staff and players show high responsibility and professionalism. At the same time, they work hard and tirelessly to improve their professionalism and achieve even better results.
Of course, it is no secret that the name of the "Qarabag" football club puts additional responsibility on you. You glorified the name of Karabakh both during the occupation and after the historic Victory in the second Karabakh war. And you promote this name throughout the European football space. I want to say again that if we take into account that our lands, including the city of Aghdam, were under occupation for many years, every victory and every historic step of the "Qarabag" football club pleases every citizen of Azerbaijan. I am sure that, at the next stage too, you will make our people happy by showing the determination and patriotism inherent in the team.
Reaching the playoffs of the European Conference League is a great achievement. Of course, we could have played directly in the quarterfinals, but, unfortunately, the injustice of the referee did not allow that to happen. I did not use this word by chance: not a refereeing mistake, but injustice. Because it would be wrong to describe this disgraceful event as a mistake. At the same time, this is not the first time that “Qarabag” football club has faced such explicit injustice in European competitions. We encountered this many times in previous years too. This time we came across this many times at the group stage. In the decisive game of 2014, a clear goal scored in the last minutes was disallowed by the referee, who thus deprived you of qualification for the next round. If I am not mistaken, it was Czech referee Zelinka who took such a shameful step. It is very unfortunate that this shameful tradition continues in European football to this day. This time, Croatian referee Jovic disallowed an obvious goal scored right in front of all spectators and television viewers. It is impossible to say that it was a mistake. After all, this is a European tournament. This is not a village tournament, not a neighborhood tournament, not a tournament between yards. This is a European tournament where the most professional and experienced referees in Europe are involved in refereeing the games. How can you not see a ball that has crossed the goal line by at least one meter? Well, you are blind to see this, then the linesman doesn’t see it either, he is also blind. But why did they collect and bring these blind people here? Why do we face this disgraceful picture only in the games of "Qarabag". I know the answer to these questions, you do too, and so do the people of Azerbaijan: injustice, double standards, prejudice against us, our country, not only you but our country as a whole. This is the answer. If it happened once or twice, we could have said that it was probably a mistake and that it was an accident. No, this is a systemic problem.
I do hope that UEFA will take tangible steps to eliminate this problem. I do hope that the referees responsible for these shameful cases will be punished. Otherwise, if no punitive measures are taken against them, then we will witness it again. Next time, you will be deprived of a just victory again. Next time, injustice, double standards and discrimination will be continued.
Football and sports must be separated from politics. Many say so, but unfortunately many also violate this principle. Because there have been many attempts to politicize sports, to use sports as a political tool, to transfer sports achievements onto a political plane. I have been President of the National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan for 24 years. Over the years, I have repeatedly faced injustice in international competitions and the Olympic Games. The recent Olympics are no exception. Of course, we must not remain silent.
I know that "Qarabag" football club, the management and coaches always act with great dignity, do not raise a hue and cry over this like some other coaches and club leaders, do not create scandals and do not raise their hand. I welcome this. A strong person always behaves in an orderly manner, always uses his strength when necessary, and I welcome that. But this does not mean that such shameful events should happen to us every time. Therefore, I am convinced that the necessary legal steps should be taken in accordance with the rules adopted by the European football family, so that such cases do not happen again in the future.
At the same time, I must say why I pay so much attention to this. You know, like every citizen of Azerbaijan, my heart aches when I see such disgraceful situations. I also ask myself how much longer we have to tolerate that. How much longer will this last? We all understand that this is not just an accident. This is either done by a pre-instructed referee or he does it on the basis of some sentiments and feelings. There is no other name for that. It is impossible not to see this. At the same time, this should not discourage us. We lived as an occupied country for 28 years. We endured for 28 years, we made preparations, we gathered strength, and drove the enemy out of our lands. Over the years, we have faced many injustices and double standards. It did not discourage us at all. On the contrary, it inspired me as President even more, it made me even more determined. It gave me extra strength to carry out this historic mission. I am sure that this injustice will give you additional strength. You will go into the next games with greater determination and resolve, and you will glorify the name of "Qarabag" and the Azerbaijani football community.
You have seen what the city of Aghdam is like today. The whole world can see it now. Thousands of people – politicians, MPs, public figures, journalists, foreigners – have already visited Aghdam and seen the destruction. More than a year has passed since the war ended. But has a European organization said a word about this tragedy, this disaster, this fascism? No! They are ignoring it, as if it never happened. The city of Aghdam does not exist now, it has been completely destroyed, looted and mined everywhere. Since the war ended, we have lost about 200 people, or they have been disabled. But has a European organization condemned Armenia for this tragedy? No! Has a European organization condemned Armenia for ethnic cleansing and the Khojaly genocide during the occupation? No! This is the truth, this is the reality, and, of course, we must take this reality into account, but we must never come to terms with it. Just as we did not come to terms with the occupation, we did not come to terms with this injustice. We gathered strength and struck such a blow to the enemy that the whole world can no longer say a word about our Victory. The whole world has had to accept our historic Victory. Because there is no other way. Why? Strength, resolve, unity, solidarity and responsibility. In politics, life and sports, I think these factors will bring dignity to every person, every politician. I want to say again that your victory is not just a sports victory. Because you represent the city of Aghdam. I am sure that one day we will build Aghdam as I said, so that Aghdam will be an example to the whole world, and you will play your home games in Aghdam, at the Imarat Stadium, where you will win bright victories and make our people happy.
I am meeting you for the third time – we met in 2014, in 2017 and now. Why? Because you bring victories to our country and people, and I would like our other football clubs to follow in your footsteps. I will meet with them and congratulate them on their achievements and success too. I am sure that it will happen. But I repeat, “Qarabag” is still the leading team of Azerbaijani football. I wish you success, achievements and victories at a new stage. Congratulations again.
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President of “Qarabag” football club Tahir Gozel said:
- Dear Mr. President, let me express my deep gratitude to you on behalf of the “Qarabag” football club, our fans, my family and myself for receiving us today. It is a great honor for us to visit you a day after the day of remembrance of our great leader Heydar Aliyev.
Mr. President, as you mentioned in previous years, the “Qarabag” football club has undertaken the mission of communicating the call of our IDPs from Karabakh, our longing for the homeland and our rightful demand for our lands to Europe and the world, and we have achieved great success with this. But this year, Mr. President, is a very different year. This year, with your great leadership, extraordinary courage, the courage of the Azerbaijani people and the sacred sacrifices of our martyrs, we have emerged as a club representing a free Karabakh that has won a great victory. Mr. President, we have seen a lot of oppression, injustice, not once, but several times. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine how the game is organized at these standards and there is no reaction. But let me say that “Qarabag” derives its moral strength from you, Mr. President, and from our people. It comes from the purity in our inner world, Mr. President. We will never forget your emotions when the words of our great leader, “Shusha will definitely be ours one day”, played in Shusha, in our cultural center, and we shared in your emotions and tears of joy. Mr. President, you have inspired us with your proud stance, and we are thankful to Allah for coming to this day.
Mr. President, when we first met with you, we did not win. You told us that day that you considered us winners and told us never to give up and keep going. There is no club in the world that is received by a leader three times. After your moral support, our only task was to succeed, and we did. I want to express my deep gratitude to you once again. May God protect you for us. May you always be there with your attention and care for us, our people, Mr. President. Thank you, thank you very much.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you, thank you very much.
The head coach of “Qarabag” football club, Gurban Gurbanov, said:
- Mr. President, please allow me to greet you again on behalf of all our coaches and players, and it is a great pleasure for us to be here with you again. I really wanted to congratulate you face to face after our glorious Victory in the 44-day war. I want to thank you on behalf of all our footballers, on behalf of my family. This victory showed the strength of our people. Although we have always had strong and talented children, I think their number will be many times higher now. Of course, I want to thank you for always giving such value to our victories and giving us so much strength. Believe me, we have always thought that we play football for the fans, we play football for our people and for our country. We have always tried to conduct ourselves properly, and most importantly, to be disciplined in the game. Every time I see that you value our success and our conduct, believe me, our responsibility, desire and strength increase. I always convey to the players your thoughts and how much you value us. Believe me, this makes us even more confident. After the referee's mistake in the last game, I said in my interview that this was a great injustice against us. But it gives us more strength and encouragement. I said this in front of them. We have seen such injustices many times. But with our resolve, with our character, with our unity, we will continue to try to be more confident and more courageous. It has been a great pleasure for us. Thank you very much for receiving us again and giving us such value. I wish you success in your future endeavors. As a footballer, as “Qarabag” football club, we are always with you. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. I thank you once again and wish you continued success and victories.
Tahir Gozel: Mr. President, with your permission, we have a gift for you. This is the team's kit in the Conference League.
President Ilham Aliyev: You also have a gift! Very good. Thank you very much!
Congratulating the players, the head of state said: “It looks like you are the one who scored that goal against Inter. They didn't count it. Congratulations! And you also scored, but they didn't count it either. You are also a good goalkeeper. You go forward with courage.
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