European football could see more disruption from Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict over disputed region

European football could see more disruption from Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict over disputed region

International football games could again be affected by the territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia that reignited on Tuesday.

Norwegian team Molde was travelling on Tuesday to Azerbaijan, two days ahead of a scheduled game in the Europa League against Qarabag.

As Molde players and officials were in transit, Azerbaijan launched what it called an “anti-terrorist operation” targeting Armenian military positions in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

“We’re on our way and with a stopover in Warsaw for fuel now, before heading for Baku, that’s our plan,” Molde spokesman Per Lianes wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

UEFA said it is “monitoring the situation and is in close contact with the host association” of Azerbaijan.

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The latest conflict follows rising tensions this month in the region that was the scene of a separatist war that started in the 1980s and a six-week war in 2020.

Nagorno-Karabakh and sizable surrounding territories have been under ethnic Armenian control since 1994. Azerbaijan regained the territories and parts of Nagorno-Karabakh itself in 2020. That war ended with an armistice that placed a Russian peacekeeper contingent there.

Three years ago, UEFA required club and national teams from Azerbaijan and Armenia to find neutral countries to host their home games in international competitions until the conflict stopped. Months later, Baku hosted four games at the men’s European Championship.

Qarabag is also set to host Bayer Leverkusen in November and Swedish club Hacken in December in their Europa League group.

Azerbaijan is also set to play Cyprus in the Women’s Nations League in Baku on Friday. Armenia hosts Kazakhstan in the same competition next Tuesday.

UEFA decided in 2007 for security reasons to separate teams from Armenia and Azerbaijan in all its competition draws. That was after the two men’s national teams were unable to play qualifying games for the 2008 World Cup when they were drawn in the same group.

International games still have offered a stage for statements of national and ethnic pride.

Last week, Armenia’s European Championship qualifier was paused because a drone carrying a breakaway flag was flown above the players.

In December 2018, a fan carrying the Armenian flag ran onto the field to disrupt Qarabag’s Europa League game at Arsenal.

Qarabag was again affected the next season in Luxembourg when a drone flew over the field carrying an Armenian flag during a game against Dudelange. The drone angered Qarabag players who tried to hit it with the ball. Play was halted for more than 20 minutes.

Last week, UEFA opened a disciplinary case into the latest flag-carrying drone incident when Armenia hosted Croatia. The drone was applauded by some fans in Yerevan.


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