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The US Soccer Team Plays Azerbaijan in a World Cup Warmup. What is Azerbaijan, You Ask?

This quiet nation of sheepherders now has a Formula 1 Grand Prix and a World Cup team. It's time to say hello to the latest big guy on the block.


Photo: Vano Shlamov / AFP / Getty Images

Tonight the United States men’s soccer team, our great national hope in the worldwide battle for soccer domination, unofficially kicks off its World Cup campaign with a tune-up match against Azerbaijan. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be experimenting with his lineup, players will be building a rapport, and fans will be furiously Googling Azerbaijan, trying to figure out if it is in fact a nation of wizards, as its name seems to suggest. That brings us to the first of out eight facts about the largest nation in the Caucasus:

-Azerbaijan is inhabited not by a nation of wizards, but by people, nearly 10 million of them by last count.

-Azerbaijan is like Texas in that it’s flush with oil and oil money. It’s not like Texas in that most of its people are Muslims who don’t care about Tony Romo.

-Dissent is not looked upon kindly in Azerbaijan. Just last week the country was scolded by a European human rights council because “opposition figures, journalists who present dissenting opinion, bloggers and civil society activists are all too often…subjected to intimidation and repression.”

-Azerbaijan is home to Yanar Dag, a mountain that is constantly on fire thanks to natural gas that continuously leeches from the ground. This mountain, along with the country’s long history of oil and gas extraction, have won it the nickname “Land of Fire.”

-Speaking of that nickname, it’s probably the only thing a lot of soccer fans know about Azerbaijan since it appears on the jersey of La Liga winners Atlético Madrid. The honor costs the country somewhere around $12 million a year.

-Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku will host a Formula 1 European Grand Prix next year. In touting the city as a perfect match for F1, Italian businessman and Heidi Klum baby daddy Flavio Briatore said, "It's a super place, the city is amazing, like a little Dubai, and more importantly everything is new.”

-Chess grandmaster turned political activist Garry Kasparov is probably the most famous person born in Azerbaijan. Of course, when he was born in 1951 it was still part of the USSR.

-Vast oil fields outside of Baku were used as a filming location in the 1999 James Bond flick The World is Not Enough. Here’s proof: