While athletes from countless other disciplines must wait another three days for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games to start in Singapore, the footballers can enjoy a head start. The girls' football tournament is all set to kick off this Thursday, 48 hours ahead of the official opening ceremony.
Turkey, the largest of the 12 competing nations in terms of population (78 million), and Iran, the largest in terms of size, receive the honour of contesting the competition's first-ever match at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday at 18:00 CET. FIFA.com took the opportunity to speak exclusively to Hamdi Aslan, coach of the Turkey girls' national team.
FIFA.com: Mr Aslan, what are your thoughts on the Youth Olympic Football Tournament in Singapore?
Hamdi Aslan: I think it's going to be a very special and important event. It looks as though Singapore have prepared very well. Bringing the stars of the future together for an international event is a great investment in the sport.
You're up against Iran and Papua New Guinea in Group A. What are your goals with the Turkish girls' team at this tournament?
Of course we want to achieve the best result possible to help promote women's football in Turkey. We've done plenty of preparation and hopefully the tournament itself will teach our players values such as the Olympic spirit, solidarity and friendship, as well as allowing them to experience other cultures. The most important thing is that they show respect and fair play.
How far are you with your preparations?
As I said, we've done a lot of preparation ahead of this tournament by looking at the individual requirements of each of our players. We also tried to motivate them for the tournament mentally. The Turkish FA has been a great support in helping us to do so.
Who are your key players?
Our team is made up of players who rely on one another. Therefore every player is important for both me and the team.
How strong is your team compared to the other participating nations?
We've never played against any of the other teams. I think all women's football teams are still developing. This will be the first time several nations will be competing at this age level.
Can you tell us a bit about women's football in Turkey?
Our football association has implemented numerous projects over the past few years to help promote women's football in Turkey. The women's league system consists of the Women's First Division, Women's Second Division, Women's Regional League, U-17 League and the U-15 League. All the leagues are amateur at the moment.
We have around 70 clubs (an exact figure is due to be published in October) and 1,500 registered players. Our goal is to increase the number of clubs to around 110 and the number of players to around 6,000 by 2013.
The Turkish FA has started the 'Football for Everyone' campaign and we're hoping that around 75,000 girls will take part in the events related to this initiative by 2013. We currently have women's national teams at U-15, U-17, U-19 and senior level.
We're also trying to develop a system that allows talented young players to be spotted early and trained for the national team. Additionally, we're aiming to increase the number of women coaches, women referees and several other areas of women's football in our country.