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Fledgling Moldovan game flourishing

Published: Monday 5 January 2015, 16.44CET
The Football Association of Moldova is looking to develop the game from the grassroots upwards.
Fledgling Moldovan game flourishing
Moldova celebrate an Igor Bugaev goal ©Domenic Aquilina
Published: Monday 5 January 2015, 16.44CET

Fledgling Moldovan game flourishing

The Football Association of Moldova is looking to develop the game from the grassroots upwards.

The Football Association of Moldova (Federaţia Moldovenească de Fotbal or FMF) was founded on 14 April 1990, but the country's footballing story stretches back far beyond that date.

Just as Moldova was one of the 15 Soviet Socialist Republics of the USSR, so its local association had been part of the USSR Football Federation. Initially the task for the newly established FMF was threefold: to organise an independent domestic championship; to join the international football community; and to create the necessary conditions for a successful national team.

Although its clubs remained within the Soviet league system for the 1990/91 season, Moldova asserted its sporting autonomy when the national side made their debut by playing a friendly against Georgia on 2 July 1991. Twelve months later the team improved on that 4-2 home defeat by the Georgians as they drew 1-1 with Lithuania. However, it was only after the FMF gained UEFA and FIFA membership, in 1993 and 1994 respectively, that the country's soccer movement could gather pace.

The FMF had already met one of its targets when setting up the Moldovan First Division, or Divizia Naţională, in March 1992; this 12-team top flight was accompanied by the Cupa Moldovei, beginning in the same year and involving 32 clubs. UEFA and FIFA affiliation soon heralded even greater possibilities at club and national-team levels.

FC Zimbru Chisinau became the first Moldovan side to feature in the UEFA Champions League, appearing in the preliminary round in August 1993. Next it was the turn of the national squad to take their competitive bow in EURO '96 qualifying. A 1-0 win in Georgia marked the perfect start. Subsequent UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup qualifying tests against countries such as Germany, Italy and England have proved invaluable for Moldova's education. In April 2008 they climbed as high as 37th in the FIFA world rankings.

The youth game has also taken strides forward, benefiting from the FMF's commitment to junior and amateur football. The national Under-17 side qualified for their UEFA European Championship in 2002, performing creditably in the final round in Denmark. The U21s have defeated opponents of the calibre of Germany, Israel and Norway, while frustrating England, Romania and the Netherlands in draws. Initiatives such as the Gugutsa programme for children aged between five and nine, and the nationwide introduction of the FA of Moldova Cup for U16 team, as well as improved funding, have encouraged the sport's growth.

Off the pitch, projects designed to strengthen the footballing infrastructure have borne fruit thanks to the support of UEFA and FIFA. These include a new FMF headquarters in the capital city Chisinau; new artificial pitches across the country; and the opening in 2002 of the Technical Centre for the National Teams of the Republic of Moldova. The joint efforts of the UEFA HatTrick scheme and the FMF All Together programme also resulted in the construction of more than 250 artificial mini-pitches.

Moldovan clubs have followed the national sides' example in securing up-to-date facilities: FC Sheriff inaugurated their new sports complex in 2002; Zimbru moved into a new stadium and training base in 2006. The hope is to establish the right conditions for player development, so enabling the next generation to walk in the footsteps of Igor Dobrovolskiy – an Olympic champion with the USSR in 1988 and a leading player of the early 1990s.

Latterly, Sheriff have featured in three UEFA Europa League group stages, boasting victories against the likes of FC Dynamo Kyiv, FC Twente and Tromsø IL. In November 2014, the FMF – with UEFA's backing – opened a state-of-the-art futsal arena at Ciorescu which hosted UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 preliminary round matches.

Last updated: 19/02/15 18.19CET

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