Cyprus is reaping the benefits of the UEFA women's football development programme (WFDP), as the country continues to focus on improving standards and opportunities for its female players, coaches and referees.
Women's football has never been in a healthier position, with more girls and women playing the game than ever before and more people watching, in stadiums and on television. At the end of 2012, there were 1.2 million registered female players in Europe, while last month's UEFA Women's Champions League final was watched by nearly 8 million people in Germany alone.
One of the aims of the WFDP is to try to ensure that this growth continues across UEFA's 54 member association countries. The programme is doing this via a mixture of support, in the form of funding and expert advice. Each association receives yearly payments thanks to funding from the HatTrick III assistance scheme, while German women's football great Steffi Jones is making a key contribution in her role as the project's ambassador.
"When you see the [UEFA] Women's EURO, you have a few nations participating, but we want to make it possible that each nation can build up a national team, build up structures," Jones told UEFA.com.
Cyprus is one country doing precisely that. While it hosts some of women's football's leading nations in the Cyprus Cup tournament each March, the association's own national team are yet to appear in a UEFA European Women's Championship at any age level, although this is something they are hoping to change.
The president of the Cyprus Football Association (KOP/CFA), Costakis Koutsokoumnis, said: "We have a women's senior team now and we also have an Under-19 team. We want to take it a little bit lower, give the chance to younger girls to take part, at Under-15 maybe or Under-13, and maybe find similar countries to play friendly games.
"That's important for the development of their skills. We hope that with all this effort, we will have good Under-13 teams, good Under-15 teams, and eventually fill the gaps we have right now."
There are currently just under 1,200 registered female footballers in Cyprus, a rise of 38% over the five-year period from 2007 to 2012. However, only 280 of these players are under the age of 18. Increasing this figure is one of the CFA's priorities, while another aspect of a four-year development plan is an improvement in the numbers of female coaches and referees, and extending girls' football into public schools and clubs.
"I am impressed by the passion of the people here – the federation is really supporting girls' and women's football, which is important," said Jones. "And when you look into the eyes of the girls, there is a lightning – there's a lot of passion."
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