Azerbaijan

The past
Having never qualified for the finals of a FIFA women’s tournament at any age category, Azerbaijan’s U-17 team boast a record that could not be described as anything other than modest, with one solitary victory in an official match to show for their efforts, a 2-1 success over Greece during the qualifying campaign for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup New Zealand 2008. Absent from the qualifying tournament for Trinidad and Tobago 2010, the 2012 hosts are now set to make their grand return to the international stage in September. Boosted by what is sure to be a fervent home support, can they rise to the occasion?

The present
The experienced Sissi Raith, capped 58 times for Germany and previously coach of Bayern Munich’s women’s team, took up the reins of the U-17 side in May 2011. While she was unable to work miracles during the UEFA European Women’s U-17 Championship 2011/12, failing to prevent the Azerbaijanis from suffering a first-round exit, significant progress has nevertheless been made under her command, as proven by recent impressive victories in friendly matches with Moldova (4-0), Kazakhstan (2-0) and Latvia (4-0).

The future
Intensive preparation coupled with Raith’s tactical know-how could well take the Odlar Yurdu (The Land of Fire) further than expected in the tournament. Whatever their results during the event, the German coach is already more than satisfied by what has already been achieved. “When I arrived in Azerbaijan, women’s football was not in the best of health. We had to start from scratch. It’s been a real joy for me to pick players and then help them to improve. It was tough at the beginning, but today we have a group of women who can be considered proper footballers.”

Facts and figures
Key players
Nigar Jalilli, Amina Heydarova, Shafag Nasirova

The numbers game
– The number of times that Azerbaijan have qualified for the final stages of a FIFA tournament.