Who is Gabala: Profiling Panathinaikos’ Europa League Opponents
Panathinaikos have an opportunity to exorcise some two-year-old demons when they play Gabala this week. AGONAsport’s George Tsitsonis profiles the Azerbaijani club.
Panathinaikos have a chance to exact some revenge when they face off against Gabala again this season in Europa League play. The Prasini were embarrassed two years ago, going out of the competition after losing out to the Azeri side on away goals (2-2 aggregate).
However, looking into the club’s recent history and the fact that the game is growing rapidly in Azerbaijan, Panathinaikos would do well to not look past this team again. Gabala finished last season in 2nd place of the Premier League riding a strong home record (11 wins, 3 losses, 0 defeats). That brought about another Europa League berth. This is the third straight season Gabala are playing in Europe and they have given a respectable account of themselves in the previous two campaigns.
Away from home this is a team that is traditionally not very good, but that could be changing after a fine 2-0 away win over Polish outfit Jagiellonia Bialystok that saw them advance to the 3rd round of this year’s competition.
Stadium: Gabala City Stadium (Capacity 4,500), European matches to be played at the Bakcell Arena (Capacity 15,000)
Coach: Roman Hryhorchuk
The 52-year-old Ukrainian manager has been at the helm of Gabala since the end of 2014. Previously, Hryhorchuk had managed sides in Latvia and Ukraine. Before heading to Azerbaijan, his biggest success was in Latvia where he led FK Ventspils to three league titles and two domestic cup successes from 2005-09.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Filip Ozobić is one of Gabala’s most important players. The Croatian midfielder just earned his first two caps for his country back in January. Last season, he led the team in scoring with 15 goals.
French striker Bagaliy Dabo is also a goalscoring threat up front. The 28-year-old had a decent first season in Azerbaijan last year scoring 11 goals in 29 appearances.
LAST SEASON RECAP
The 2016/17 season was Gabala’s best season in the Azerbaijan Premier League. The northern Azerbaijan club finished 2nd, 10 points behind eventual champions Qarabag. Gabala also went down to Qarabag in the final of the domestic cup, losing 2-0 to their rivals.
THIS YEAR IN EUROPE
Gabala’s participation in the 3rd qualifying round of the Europa League looked to be in jeopardy after a 1-1 home draw against Polish side Jagiellonia Białystok. However, the Azeris came back in the 2nd leg to win 2-0 away and clinch a place in the next round.
PRIOR HISTORY VERSUS GREEK CLUBS
Gabala have played against Greek opposition on four occasions with all four meetings ending in draws. They eliminated Panathinaikos from this very competition in the 2015/16 season after drawing at home 0-0 and going through on away goals after a 2-2 draw in Greece.
Last season, the club faced off against PAOK twice in the Europa League and drew both matches against the Thessaloniki team.