With the group stage now concluded and four enticing quarter-finals to look forward to, the excitement surrounding Azerbaijan 2012 continues to grow.
"I’m supporting three teams at this tournament: Azerbaijan, Germany, and Brazil,” Ramiz Aliyev, a local football fan, told FIFA.com. “Two of them have already qualified for quarter-finals, and I’m eager to see one of my favourites making it to the final stages. After that, may the best team win!” he added.
Aliyev’s sentiments are shared by many of his compatriots and shows that the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2012, the first FIFA tournament ever staged in Azerbaijan, has generated great interest and excitement in the host country. Nowhere is this more evident than among the local population visiting the stadiums on matchdays and the dedicated Fan Zones.
Another Azerbaijan supporter, Elshan Mammadov, was very optimistic about the team’s future despite their early departure from the tournament. "They were the first women’s [national] team to represent Azerbaijan, so they deserve to be applauded. The professional manner in which they controlled the ball really surprised me. I hope they achieve a lot in their future careers."
Speaking on the eve of the competition, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter said: “Azerbaijan shows that football is a game for everybody… that women’s football is open to all.” And so it has proved at the tournament. Gurban Hasanli, a fan from Lankaran said: “I never thought there’d be women’s football in Azerbaijan. However, since the beginning of the tournament, I’ve seen that we’ve actually got an organized team.” The overwhelming reaction to the team has been positive, proving that attitudes towards women’s football in the country have changed in recent years.
Local fans have also been impressed with the organisational side of the tournament, an opinion shared by many in the international football community. Despite the country hosting a FIFA World Cup for the first time, the feedback from visiting fans, delegations, officials and journalists has been extremely positive. The FIFA President’s description of Azerbaijan at the last FIFA Executive Committee meeting in Zurich as “a model country with high-level organisational potential” looks to be coming true.
With the knock-out stages set to bring even more enthusiasm, the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup's festive spirit looks set to continue for a little while longer in the Land of Fire.