UEFA President Michel Platini has visited Azerbaijan for the celebrations to mark 100 years of football in the country.
Mr Platini was welcomed by state President Ilham Aliyev, who highlighted the attention that is being paid to sports and football in particular. Mr Platini joined the FIFA President Joseph Blatter in attending the opening ceremony of the newly built Dalğa Arena.
"We are optimistic as we celebrate the centenary of football in Azerbaijan," said Mr Aliyev. "The state is working diligently to enable football to prosper in Azerbaijan. Now, the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan [AFFA] is occupying a worthy place among other national associations and is paying major attention to cooperation with UEFA and FIFA. I again thank Joseph Blatter and Michel Platini for their visit to take part in these milestone events."
Football in Azerbaijan can be traced back to 1911, having been introduced by British workers during the industrial boom of the late 19th century. Mr Platini said: "I'm very glad that Azerbaijan is giving so much attention to football and is actively investing in the game. I know the big celebrations that took place in Azerbaijan after the win against Turkey in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying. It shows how people love football here."
The UEFA President also visited the site of the 65,000-capacity Olympic Stadium that will be built close to Baku airport in the capital. Together with Mr Aliyev, Mr Platini took part in a foundation-laying ceremony. "I thank Mr Platini and Mr Blatter for their visit to Azerbaijan. Our football keeps growing and we can feel UEFA's support," said AFFA President Rovnag Abdullayev.
"This is my fourth trip to Azerbaijan and I appreciate how people care about football here," Mr Platini added. "The authorities are giving strong support to the game. You have a young association led by Rovnag Abdullayev. We thank him, and especially Ilham Aliyev for his backing of football. I firmly believe that the pace of development promises a bright future for Azerbaijan's football."
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