Opened in 2015, the Baku Olympic Stadium personifies the oil-rich capital of Azerbaijan, determined to claim its place on the world stage by hosting prestigious global events.
The Eurovision Song Contest, the Grand Prix, the 2019 Europa League Final and Euro 2020, there’s nothing that this former backwater in the Caucasus can’t accommodate.
To the list you can now add the Champions League, thanks to the first-time qualification of Qarabag to the group stage in August 2017. The four-time recent winners of Azerbaijan’s weak, eight-team domestic league played their previous European fixtures at Baku’s Tofik Bakhramov Stadium. Close to the city centre, this former national arena has been superseded by the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium set way north-east of town, by the shores of Lake Boyukshor.
It has also been superseded by the progress of Qarabag, the club from the war-torn region of Nagorno-Karabakh that moved to the Azeri capital in the early 1990s. Taken over by huge food conglomerate Azersun a decade later, the club has been winning through various rounds of European competitions since 2009, raising the bar each time.
After Europa League clashes in recent seasons with Internazionale, Monaco, Spurs and Fiorentina, an away-goals win over FC Copenhagen brings Roma, Atlético Madrid and Chelsea to Baku in 2017-18. Not only is this a first for Azerbaijan, being represented in the group stage of the Champions League, but it also marks Qarabag’s debut at the Baku Olympic Stadium.
If anything, the fact that Baku’s once modest metro network now extends this far out of town is almost as indicative of the speed of urban development in the city. Host of the inaugural European Games of 2015, the Olympic Stadium covers a vast site – three times the size of Baku’s historic Old Town – and rises six storeys high.
Laid out in three tiers, the stadium loops around a running track with a fair distance between those in the highest ring and the action. Away fans are usually allocated sectors 307-309 behind one end.
The quickest way to reach the stadium is by metro. Koroglu station is on both the red and the green lines, four stops from the main crossing point of 28 May, five on the red from central Sahil.
Allow 20 minutes from town. Koroglu station is a 10-15min walk to the stadium, approaching the south-west exit.
Several bus lines, including Nos.1 and 13, serve the nearest stop of Milli Stadion, but unless you’re staying at a hotel en route, the Excelsior, say, it’s hardly worth the hassle.
A taxi from the city centre should cost around 12AZN/€6 but make sure the meter is running and/or agree a price beforehand. The traffic will be heavy heading to the match and atrocious coming back, so, again, metro might be best. As European matches are usually scheduled for 2100 local time, transport should still be running after the final whistle.
The Baku Olympic Stadium is only used for prestigious international fixtures. Many, such as the Champions League fixture with Chelsea in November 2017, sell out.
Visiting supporters should organise tickets through their own club or national football association.
The only non-VIP outlet at the stadium is the bland and alcohol-free VOM.4 Café in the south-west corner nearest the metro station.
Behind the stadium at Lake Boyukshor, the sleek Café Shore appeals to a business clientele while BOS Café 008 is equally neat and shares the same waterside view.