Worst in the World Tales: Azerbaijan


Through the 1990s, many new nations emerged from the turmoil of Eastern Europe. As the old world order was split and destroyed, so a raft of independent countries took their places in the world’s organisations. For many, membership of FIFA was almost as high on the list of priorities as gaining United Nations recognition. As the Soviet Union disintegrated and Yugoslavia more gradually splintered, the number of new national teams rapidly increased and they all took their place on the nascent world rankings. For Azerbaijan, their initial spell in FIFA resulted in a brief stint at the bottom, albeit for just two months.

Having won a string of unofficial matches following independence in 1991 whilst not yet affiliated to either UEFA or FIFA, Azerbaijan had to wait until 1994 to become members of both. Those earlier successes, against fellow former Soviets, meant nothing in terms of ranking points once Azerbaijan took their place in FIFA’s meritocracy. Once FIFA membership was gained, Azerbaijan’s first full international took place in April 1994 when they travelled to the less than mighty Malta to take on the hosts in a friendly. Surely, this was an easy opportunity to get off to a winning start and step quickly past the collection of lowly ranked nations? To say that things didn’t get off to the most stellar of beginnings for the new nation would be something of an understatement.

Their small Mediterranean island opponents are not known for their football achievements but at the time they were ranked a startlingly high 82nd in the world, and made their superior experience tell. Before two minutes had ticked by, the Maltese had taken the lead. By half-time, it was 2-0, and three late goals piled on the Azeri misery to complete a 5-0 rout. A spot at the foot of the rankings was assured. It took a goalless draw with Turkey a few games and a few months later to finally rid them of that particular burden.

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