Azerbaijan international defender Ruslan Abishov spoke of his pride that his country is hosting the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and feels it could be a stepping stone towards further tournaments.
Chatting with FIFA.com, the relaxed 24-year-old expressed how good it was to see the fans enjoying Azerbaijan 2012, now the tournament is in full swing. “I’m proud of my country to host such a very important tournament here, because it’s very important for our football.
“Me and my team have been able to watch a few games on TV and it makes us happy to see all the people enjoying a tournament taking place in Azerbaijan,” Abishov said.
Having joined Khazar Lankaran this season from Neftchi Baku, he has played across both of the tournament’s host cities during the build up to the games, and with all the preparations that have taken place, he thinks Azerbaijan will benefit. “We are a very young country, and our football is young too, but this tournament will hopefully make us a little more famous around the world.”
Reclining on a sofa in his temporary hotel home in Baku – with Lankaran’s stadium being used during the group stage –he realises bigger tournaments are a long distance away, but felt this is the first step towards the dream of a European Championships or a FIFA World Cup™ in the region some day.
“Why not? Anything is possible,” Azerbaijan’s No15 said. “First, however, we must build new stadiums, as we don’t have enough of the quality to host something of this size, but in the future if we do so a big tournament would be perfect for our country.”
Before that materialises though, he has the upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifier with Russia on 16 October to think about, after beginning their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Israel and a 3-0 defeat to Portugal. He scored the equaliser against Israel, during the Tofig Bahramov Stadium’s grand re-opening ahead of Azerbaijan 2012, and he recalls it with pride.
“Remembering that game gives me a good feeling, we prepared very well seeing as it was the first game of qualification and we played well, I think we deserved more. After the draw with Israel we thought we could get a good result against Portugal, even though they play such a high standard of football,” he said.
“But to be honest, against Israel our physical level was not perfect and against Portugal we felt it, and that’s when we began to concede. As Russia are not at the same level as Portugal we hope to get a good result against them.”
Away from the international stage, Abishov has been settling into life with new club Khazar after spending a successful eight years with Neftchi. He began his career there and won the Azerbaijan Premier League during the last two seasons with them, but switched to last year’s third-placed side Khazar partly, he says, because the “fans are the best supporters in the country”.
The rivalry between the two sides is fierce however so, despite growing up with Neftchi, he received a volatile welcome when he returned in a 2-1 defeat a week before Azerbaijan 2012 began. It’s been a tough introduction altogether too, as Khazar languish at the bottom of the league with just one win from six.
However he believes his new team, from the seaside town just 40km drive north of the Iranian border, can get back on track. “I chose this team because I believe they can win the title and now I am here I can see that everything is at a high level. We’ve not had the best start to the season but I’m confident that it’s temporary and we can turn it around.”