Women's football in Central Asia back on track after pandemic

27 Jun 2021
  • Central Asian FA uses FIFA Forward funds to restart its women's football activities

  • Strict protocols ensured zero COVID-19 cases

  • Tough competition between Uzbekistan and IR Iran was decided by goal difference

The Central Asian Football Association (CAFA), using USD 237,000 of FIFA Forward funds, have ended a two year COVID-19-enforced tournament absence by hosting a U-20 women’s championship that ended on 18 June.

The U-20 women's national teams of Afghanistan, IR Iran, Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan travelled to the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe in a five-nation tournament. Turkmenistan, the sixth CAFA member, were unable to participate due to travel restrictions.

“Everyone has missed football and we are so happy to have played this event,” said CAFA President Mr. Rustam Emomali. “We are really trying to develop women's football in our region as there is great potential.”

Ulugbek Karimov, CAFA General Secretary, added: “The support of the FIFA Forward programme funding is crucial. I believe we need to hold such international events more often, and we hope that life will slowly return to normal for the people of our region. We almost always hold our competitions in front of a full house."

All matches were played at the Republican Central Stadium in Dushanbe, a venue used by the Tajikistan national men's team for its home matches. No spectators were allowed due to COVID-19 precautions. The competition was held in strict compliance with local medical protocols and CAFA Match Operations Protocol. All facilities were thoroughly disinfected before and after the matches, and participants and LOC members had their temperature and health conditions regularly checked.

“This tournament provided an opportunity for girls to play," said Kyrgyz Republic coach Valerii Berezovskii. "In comparison with men's football, girls have fewer matches at national team level. There were many players participating in an international tournament for the first time. It’s an opportunity to meet new people and see old friends."

For Ilkham Khanjariyev, Uzbekistan’s coach, the tournament gave his team and coaching staff an opportunity to review new players and experimental tactically: “Our optimal team is now almost 70-80 per cent ready, and I hope we will have a well-prepared squad for the Asian Cup qualifiers. We want to thank the organisers for the excellent organisation and warm welcome we experienced.”

Central Asia Football Association U-20 Women's Championship played in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Tajikistan line up for the national anthem at the Central Asia Football Association U-20 Women's Championship

Central Asia Football Association U20 Women's Championship played in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Central Asia Football Association U-20 Women's Championship banner is brought out to the pitch

Central Asia Football Association U20 Women's Championship played in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

The tournament delivered plenty of excitement and action. The showdown of the two main contenders, when IR Iran played Uzbekistan, turned out to be the jewel in the crown. The Iranians were first to break the deadlock through Zohreh Erfani. A brace from Zarina Mamatkarimova put the Uzbeks ahead, before Negin Zandi Dareh Gharibi, later voted the player of the tournament, equalised for a draw.

With Uzbekistan and IR Iran tied on ten points each, it was goal difference that decided the tournament winner. Uzbekistan took first place, with IR Iran runners-up. Kyrgyz Republic finished third, with Afghanistan and Tajikistan in order, completing the ranking. Uzbek forward Jasmina Abduganieva claimed the honour of tournament top scorer.

"Our team is very happy that, after a long time, we were finally able to take part in an international CAFA tournament,” said winning captain Tojinisokhon Rashidova. “All the opponents were worthy of our respect, and regardless of the results, we learned something new every match. For players of our age, such experience is invaluable.”

CAFA is planning to continue using FIFA Forward funding, with four more tournaments – two for girls (U-17 and U-23) in July – and two for boys (U-15 and U-18) planned for later in 2021.

In Tajikistan itself, FIFA’s Women’s Football Division have approved two development projects, with ring-fenced funding for women’s football via the FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan.

Financial support of up to USD 50,000 will support a league development plan, with support from a technical expert for potentially two years. An additional USD 10,000 of funding will go towards a women’s football campaign. Both projects were selected by the member association from the menu of eight development programmes, launched by FIFA in September 2020.

In the Kyrgyz Republic, another women’s football campaign is being supported, with plans currently being finalised for the introduction of a U-13 league in the country too.