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Futsal finals broaden Azerbaijan horizons

The heads of Azerbaijani football, Rovnag Abdullayev, and futsal, Zaur Akhundov, are looking to the future after the success of the UEFA Futsal Cup finals in Baku.

Home fans enjoy the finals
Home fans enjoy the finals ©Sportsfile

Having staged their nation's first ever UEFA final tournament, the heads of Azerbaijani football and futsal are looking to the future.

The UEFA Futsal Cup final tournament was played in Baku between Thursday and Saturday, with hosts Araz Naxçivan coming third after losing on penalties to eventual champions FC Barcelona then beating holders Kairat Almaty for bronze, matching their achievement of 2010 in Lisbon. The Sarhadchi Olympic Sport Complex was packed out for the matches to the delight of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) president Rovnag Abdullayev and Azerbaijan Futsal Federation (AFF) president Zaur Akhundov.

"I would like to thank UEFA for trusting the AFFA to organise this tournament," said Abdullayev. "Many fans watched the exciting finals with Barcelona, Dynamo and Araz. Azerbaijani club Araz Naxçivan took third place at the tournament and it was one of the happiest moments for us."

Akhundov added: "Lots of people were left outside because all the tickets were sold. It shows development of sport and especially futsal in our country. As a result of successful policies pursued by president Ilham Aliyev, international sport organisations are interested in staging competitions in Azerbaijan."

Araz have monopolised the Azerbaijani futsal title for the last decade, their squad making up virtually all of the national side that have qualified for the last three UEFA Futsal EUROs, including coach Alesio. While Araz's success has been based around naturalised Brazilians and foreign signings, Akhundov hopes that local players will now latch on to the game.

"We have four domestic futsal league divisions in Azerbaijan," he said. "Generally, 90% of those leagues consist of local players. There is a worldwide practice of having foreign players in teams. After consultation with AFFA officials, we have decided to rejuvenate the national team. We'll give more chances to our local young players. The organisation of the UEFA Futsal Cup finals in Baku increased young people's interest in this sport and I hope the number of young fans will increase in future years."

Abdullayev, meanwhile, is looking to what will be the first UEFA football final tournament to be held in his nation. "The top-level organisation of the finals makes us more confident that UEFA, the participating teams, and the fans will be happy during the 2016 UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Azerbaijan.

"I want to thank UEFA and the local organising committee for their activities during the UEFA Futsal Cup finals as well as AFFA staff, the journalists who worked on the promotion of the tournament, security and all the staff of the Sarhadchi Olympic Sport Complex, and the fans that supported the teams."