Maccabi Tel Aviv v. Xəzər Lənkəran: Israeli Football Players on Iran’s Doorstep
Well, I doubt that the players from Maccabi Tel Aviv FC are heading down to the border town of Astara, but Lənkəran isn’t very far away. We sit about a 30 minute drive north of the border, so when Maccabi Tel Aviv players came to Lənkəran, I’m sure they were closer to Iran than they ever thought they might be. I hadn’t even thought of the security implications of tonight’s match until I was sent this news article:
Some 15,000 fans, 400 policemen and 300 soldiers will meet Maccabi Tel Aviv for its return leg tonight against Khazar Lankaran in Azerbaijan, just 40 kilometers from the Iranian border. In a move to prevent Iranian citizens from entering the stadium, every fan will have to present a passport. The 30 Maccabi fans who made the journey in three flights will be given heavy security.
A few things: First, those 30 Maccabi fans aren’t very travel-savvy. They should be able to get to Azerbaijan with only one layover. If they were really savvy, they would realize they could have flown to Moscow or St. Petersburg and been on a flight directly from there to Lənkəran. Second, the article describes later how the Maccabi team complained about the conditions of getting to Lənkəran. Same goes for them: if they were any good at international travel, they should have been able to get a flight into Lənkəran (it’s a football team: shouldn’t they have their own chartered flight?) and skipped the “rickety bus” they talked about. And even if they had taken a bus from the Baku bus station, it would have been air-conditioned. What buses are they talking about? Third, those security measures are interesting. At the last game I went to, there was a very small crowd of fans for the other team that was surrounded by security for the entire game. And it seems that no matter who the opponent is, security at these games is always plentiful, with local military regiments lining up around the pitch and into many of the seating sections.
Last, people around Lənkəran have been talking about this game all week. I’ve been asked tens of times in the last few days if I’ve bought a ticket yet (I haven’t) and I’m sure that the stadium will be packed. For the fans’ sakes, I hope that the game is better than the last one I went to, against a team from Moldova. For this upcoming game, we know that Xəzər Lənkəran, this year’s Azerbaijan League champion, took the loss in the last meeting of these two teams in Israel a few weeks ago. Hopefully Xəzər can take some lessons learned and advantage of the hometown crowd to turn that 3:1 score from the loss into a 3:1 win here in Lənkəran.