Azerbaijan hosted its first FIFA tournament in 2012
Women’s national team coach Siyasat Asgarov talks to FIFA.com about the legacy of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup™
"Women’s football in our country has gone through a period of improvement"
In 2012, Azerbaijan hosted its first-ever FIFA tournament. The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup™ was held in the country between September and October of that year, with France ultimately crowned world champions. But what legacy did this tournament leave behind for women’s football in the land between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus?
"The tournament’s legacy is the infrastructure, which is very important for the development of football in our country," explained Siyasat Asgarov, coach of the Azerbaijan women’s national team. "Women’s football in our country has gone through a period of improvement. The best outcome of this process has been the creation of women’s leagues and teams for different age groups. We garnered a huge amount of experience from the tournament too."
Back in 2012, Azerbaijan ultimately finished last with zero points in a group that also featured Nigeria, Canada and Colombia. The result came as no surprise to Asgarov. "It was a new dawn for women’s football in Azerbaijan, as we had only just introduced it," he recalled. "My overriding memory is that there were 32,000 fans in the stadium for the opening match. I will never forget that experience as we were not expecting it."
Almost nine years later, the senior national team are about to kick off their qualifying campaign for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023™ by facing Russia in Group E on 17 September.
"Our group includes countries from all kinds of regions. That’s exciting for us because we as a team are going to learn a lot of things from different sides, whether we are playing at home or away," said the 34-year-old coach, who describes himself as "punctual, honest and passionate".
"We know that Denmark and Russia are both teams that have shown what they can do in recent years. The other sides are no less experienced, be it Bosnia, Malta or Montenegro. We will gain experience from all of these games, and that’s very important for us as a team. The second important point is that our players will have a chance to communicate with other players."
Accumulating experience, expanding horizons and demonstrating talent, character and a passion for football – all of these things are top priorities for Asgarov, who has already managed his country’s U-15, U-17 and U-19 women’s national teams.
"As a young women’s team we have a lot of goals and dreams, and as a growing new women’s side, the standard of our leagues is gradually increasing. Our first aim when creating this team was to enable our girls to spend some time playing in leagues in countries where women’s football is more developed and the leagues are better.
"We have now more or less achieved this goal. At the moment 19 of our internationals are playing in Turkey, Kazakhstan and Russia and helping us by gaining experience there. That was one of our wishes," he explained.
"As for our second wish, it is clear that we are still some way behind some of the leading countries in women’s football. We need to try hard to catch up to their level, so we’re working on raising ours. Last year we collected three points from European qualifying, and we are aiming to win more points in our group in the next stage. What sets us apart is our passion and the fact that we’re pushing ahead for better results and to achieve our goals."
The next challenge is to kindle this same love of football in subsequent generations to ensure that the women’s game has a future in Azerbaijan. "Of course, we have a foundation now. Yes, it isn’t at the level we want it to be, but our Federation is doing a lot to lift our team to a higher level.
"Although the current situation surrounding the pandemic and lockdowns put some constraints on us, we are not letting up, and the Federation is helping us to build on this foundation, be it through the leagues, festivals organised by the Federation or grassroots events."