There is nothing between Viktoria Plzeň and Qarabağ as they meet in the Czech Republic for the decisive second leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off tie.
The opening installment in Baku on 17 August ended goalless, Plzeň goalkeeper Jindřich Staněk saving from Marko Vešović, Kady and, in the final stages, substitute Filip Ozobić to earn the Czech champions a draw.
While the Azerbaijani club have already won three ties in this season’s competition, their Czech opponents have two aggregate victories to their name, both teams knocking out recent group stage participants in the third qualifying round.
The sides’ only past contests before this tie came in the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, Plzeň progressing on away goals thanks to Michael Krmenčík’s 85th-minute strike to earn a 1-1 draw in the second leg in Baku; the first game in Plzeň had finished 0-0. Qarabağ’s coach, as now, was Gurban Gurbanov.
Lukáš Hejda and Jan Kopic came off the bench for Plzeň in the home leg, when Matúš Kozáčik – now the club’s goalkeeping coach – kept a clean sheet; Daniel Kolář and Marek Bakoš, currently sporting manager and assistant coach respectively, also played in the tie.
Kopic set up Krmenčík’s decisive goal in Baku after coming off the bench, Hejda playing 90 minutes.
Plzeň are aiming to reach the group stage for the fourth time, and the first since 2018/19 when, as in their previous two appearances, they finished third in their section to move across to the UEFA Europa League.
That most recent campaign, in 2018/19, was also Plzeň’s most successful in the UEFA Champions League as they picked up seven points, winning 2-1 at CSKA Moskva and beating Roma at home by the same scoreline – two of just four victories in their 18 group stage games.
Plzeň have since lost in the second qualifying round to Olympiacos in 2019/20 (0-0 h, 0-4 a) and AZ Alkmaar the following season (1-3 a aet).
The Czech club’s 2021/22 European campaign lasted three ties in the new UEFA Europa Conference League, Plzeň beating Dinamo Brest 2-1 home and away in the second qualifying round and The New Saints 4-1 on penalties (2-4 a, 3 -1 h aet) only to lose to CSKA-Sofia in the play-offs (2-0 h, 0-3 a aet).
Champions of the Czech Republic for the sixth time – all in the last 11 years – in 2021/22, Plzeň won their first four matches in UEFA Champions League qualifying this season, beating HJK Helsinki in the second qualifying round (2-1 a, 5-0 h), the latter equaling their biggest European success, and last season’s group stage debutants Sheriff in the third (2-1 a, 2-1 h).
This is Plzeň’s fourth UEFA Champions League play-off; their record is W2 L1 with wins against Copenhagen in 2011/12 (3-1 a, 2-1 h) and Maribor in 2013/14 (3-1 h, 1-0 a) but defeat in the most recent tie, against Ludogorets in 2016/17 (0-2 a, 2-2 h).
That 2016 tie against Qarabağ is Plzeň’s only other experience of opposition from Azerbaijan.
Plzeň have won their last seven home European matches and are unbeaten in their own stadium since a 5-0 loss to Real Madrid on Matchday 4 of the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League; their record since is W9 D1.
Plzeň have drawn the first leg away from home in three previous European ties, winning the most recent against Partizan in the 2017/18 UEFA Europa League round of 32 (1-1 a, 2-0 h) after two third qualifying round defeats against Romanian opposition – Petrolul Ploieşti in the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League (1-1 a, 1-4 h) and FCSB in the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League (2-2 a, 1-4 h).
Plzeň’s record in one UEFA penalty shoot-out is W1 L0:
4-1 v The New Saints, 2021/22 UEFA Europa Conference League third qualifying round
Qarabağ’s sole previous UEFA Champions League group stage appearance came in 2017/18, when they became the first club from Azerbaijan to feature. They finished fourth in their section, their only points coming from two draws against Atlético de Madrid (0-0 h, 1-1 a).
That was the only time Qarabağ have successfully negotiated the competition’s qualifying rounds, where they have been eliminated six times – including three since that lone group appearance.
In 2017/18 Qarabağ beat Copenhagen on away goals (1-0 h, 1-2 a) in what is their only previous UEFA Champions League play-off. They have won their last eight play-off ties across all UEFA competitions.
The Baku club took part in the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League in 2021/22, reaching the group stage after surviving three qualifying rounds. They finished second in their section behind Basel before being eliminated by Marseille in the knockout play-offs (1-3 a, 0-3 h).
Qarabağ claimed their ninth Azerbaijan league title in 2021/22 and their eighth in nine years, also adding the Azerbaijan Cup, their seventh, to complete a fifth domestic double.
That meant a place in this season’s UEFA Champions League first qualifying round, where Qarabağ overturned a 1-0 first-leg defeat at Lech Poznań with a 5-1 home success before ousting Zürich (3-2 h, 2-2 a aet) and Ferencváros (1-1 h, 3-1 a).
Qarabağ have lost just one of their last seven away games in European qualifying ties (W4 D2).
Qarabağ have now played seven games against Czech clubs and are still awaiting their first victory (D4 L3), following up their loss against Plzeň in 2016/17 with a 3-0 defeat at Slovan Liberec in that season’s UEFA Europa League group stage after a 2-2 home draw. They were also beaten away (0-5) and home (0-3) by Jablonec in the 1997/98 UEFA Cup first qualifying round, and have yet to score in three visits to the Czech Republic.
Qarabağ’s win against Ferencváros in this season’s third qualifying round extended their record of winning every European tie in which they were held in the home first leg to five. That tally includes four ties in which the first game ended scoreless, most recently against Ashdod in the 2021/22 UEFA Europa Conference League second qualifying round (1-0 a).
Qarabağ’s record in one UEFA penalty shoot-out is W0 L1:
5-6 v Molde, 2020/21 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round
Links and trivia
Plzeň’s Jan Sýkora scored Slovan Liberec’s opener in the first minute of their 2-2 draw against Qarabağ on 15 September 2016. Timed at 10.69 seconds, it remains the fastest goal in the UEFA Europa League.
Kopic scored the Czech Republic’s first goal in a 2-1 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying win against Azerbaijan in Baku on 5 October 2017; Jan Kliment was a late substitute.
Plzeň coach Michal Bílek was in charge of the Czech Republic side beaten 2-0 by Azerbaijan in a friendly played in the United Arab Emirates on November 18, 2009.