UEFA's mission to help foster football beyond Europe saw Tajikistan's national Under-15 team invited to take part in a UEFA age-group development tournament in Albania.
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UEFA not only fosters football at all levels in Europe – its mission also includes helping nurture and develop the game beyond this continent, for football’s overall benefit.
Consequently, UEFA invited the national Under-15 team of Tajikistan to take part in a UEFA age-level development tournament in Albania – providing young footballers from the central Asian country with a wonderful chance to learn and prosper from a unique adventure.
Tajikistan’s young team savoured a fascinating experience in coming to Albania and playing against the host country, Estonia and Kosovo in the tournament in Kamez.
The invitation was extended via UEFA’s ASSIST programme, which aims to increase solidarity and enhance football development to meet the needs of national associations and confederations outside Europe.
The players represented the Tajikistan Football Federation (TFF), the national football association of the landlocked republic of some 9 million inhabitants in Central Asia.
Tajikistan became a sovereign independent nation in September 1991 upon the break-up of the Soviet Union. The football association is a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and was admitted to the world football body FIFA in 1994.
Tajikistan’s presence reflected the spirit of UEFA’s new Under-15 development tournaments, which are not just giving a sporting experience to budding young footballers – but also taking them on an educational and human journey at the same time.
The Under-15 development tournaments across Europe have been launched this season at the wish of UEFA’s member associations. They are designed to help youngsters gain increased international experience at youth level, especially in preparation for older age groups. In addition, they aim to improve the quality of domestic football development at Under-15 level.
For many youngsters, the tournaments are the first chance to visit a foreign country, travel by plane, stay at a hotel and experience the atmosphere of a team group away from their home environments. The players benefit immensely, especially from measuring themselves against counterparts from other countries.
“For many of our players, this was their first trip abroad,” said TFF general secretary Davlatmand Islomov. “They’ve really enjoyed travelling to Albania to see this beautiful country, to learn more about its history, people and culture – and to find friends from other countries."
“[The players] could see how their peers from other countries play… they gained experience of new tactics and have tested their playing capabilities against European teams.”
The Tajikistan Football Federation is working diligently to nurture its young players. A regional competition for young footballers at this age level involves more than 60 teams and some 1,570 players, with ten teams eventually qualifying for the final tournament.
“The [federation’s] technical department is closely involved in the [youngsters’] league, creating all the conditions for the development of players,” added Islomov.
Tajikistan’s youth coaches are also being given important education opportunities, in particular at domestic and international technicians’ gatherings.
Head coach Safarali Rahmonov stressed the learning aspect of the trip to Albania – not only for the players, but also for the coaches, who had the opportunity to discuss the latest tactical and technical trends with their colleagues from Albania, Estonia and Kosovo.
“[We made] acquaintance not only with football, but also with the culture of other countries, creating friendship and fraternity,” Rahmonov said. “Such tournaments give a strong impetus to the development of players – they aid their rapid growth, help them progress and provide great experience.”
Rahmonov reflected that tournaments such as the one in Albania also serve as an ideal opportunity to observe and assess Tajikistan’s young talents in a special context. “There is not a great choice of players at this age level,” he said. “But we are trying to fix this situation by participating in various tournaments, including this UEFA development tournament."
“We look at players in districts, cities and [national] tournaments, and select those who are ready to make the step up.”
Tajikistan faced challenging opposition on the pitch, but the main objective of their visit was fully achieved – to help their players take positive steps forward at a significant early stage of their footballing journey. “I think the kids benefit from all points of view,” said Rahmonov.
“We were very pleased to receive UEFA’s invitation, and I hope that it was not our last experience in such a European tournament,” he added. “We hope to return here more often, and improve our level and results each time.”
In addition to Tajikistan, Under-15 teams from other parts of the world are being welcomed by UEFA to taste the tournament experience on this continent. China will play in a tournament in Croatia, and the United States will visit Poland.
And UEFA itself can take considerable satisfaction from its move to introduce the development tournaments in this age category. They are proving their worth as a vital platform for sporting and personal progress for hundreds of emerging footballers, as UEFA’s head of national associations’ international relations, Eva Pasquier, explains:
“This tournament was another great opportunity for talented young players to compete, learn and exchange,” she said.
“Their backgrounds, cultures and languages could not have been more different – but football united them all…”