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15 facts about Azerbaijan....

Here are 15 things you never needed to know about the 'land of fire'.....

  • Football was introduced to Azerbaijan in 1911 by a group of English workers who came to Baku during the country's industrial boom at the turn of the century.
  • Tofik Bahramov, the linesman who ensured that England's controversial third goal against the Germans in the 1966 World Cup Final, was not in fact Russian but Azerbaijani. The national stadium in Baku is named after him.
  • Gurban Gurbanov, Azerbaijan's all time top scorer (with 12), is the oldest of three footballing brothers who have played for the national side. He and kid bro Ilgar may feature against England. Middle brother Makhmud is out of favour.
  • Current president of Azerbaijan and football fanatic Ilham Aliev, was once rumoured to have spent over £4million in the casinos of Baku in a single weekend.
  • In 2003, Azerbaijan was temporarily suspended by FIFA and UEFA, after a civil war between the football federation and the government-backed Olympic Committee meant that the entire domestic league programme ground to a halt.
  • Until Carlos Alberto guided them to victory in Kazakhstan last April, Azerbaijan had not managed an away win in 10 years.
  • Azerbaijan-born striker Anatoly Banishevsky - regarded the country's best ever player - featured in the USSR team that took third place in the 1966 World Cup.
  • Chess champion Gary Kasparov, though an ethnic Armenian, was born in Baku.
  • Aside from football, the other most popular sports in Azerbaijan are chess, wrestling and chovgan - a type of polo.
  • At the turn of the 20th century, Baku was the main centre of the global oil boom. It was here that the Rothschilds, and Alfred Nobel (of Peace Prize fame) amassed much of their wealth.
  • Of the 7.8 million population of Azerbaijan, just under one million are refugees displaced by the war with neighbouring Armenia, over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • Azerbaijan was the birthplace of Zoraoaster, the founder of the religion known as Zoroastrism, whose god Ahura Mazda was known as the god of fire. Azerbaijan means 'land of fire'
  • Aside from vodka, one of the favoured local tipples is tutkovka, which is made from mulberries.
  • In 2003, Transparency International's annual Corruption Index ranked Azerbaijan as joint sixth most corrupt country in the world.
  • After other Caspian states Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan is the world's largest source of sturgeon and caviar, producing around five tonnes of 'black gold' every year.