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Hasanov: Azerbaijan were 'worthy' hosts

"This will give a big boost to the development of Azeri football," said Azerbaijan coach Tabriz Hasanov, reflecting on the end of the hosts' debut U17 EURO finals campaign.

The Azerbaijan supporters backed their team heartily
The Azerbaijan supporters backed their team heartily ©AFFA

It is said that the first game is the most important when it comes to a major tournament, that it defines a team's campaign.

A 5-0 defeat on opening night would break any side's resolve, but it was a different story with Azerbaijan at their home UEFA European Under-17 Championship.

"What happened gave us strength," said Azerbaijan coach Tabriz Hasanov of the fixture against Portugal, when his charges were 3-0 down after 24 minutes at Baku Olympic Stadium. "It gave us the will to focus. We were in our own backyard and we had to prove to all the fans that this team can play football."

Highlights: Azerbaijan 0-5 Portugal
Highlights: Azerbaijan 0-5 Portugal

They certainly did. The finals debutants went from strength to strength, following up that sobering loss with a spirited 1-1 draw against Belgium and a 1-0 victory over Scotland that secured them a third-place finish in Group A. "After the first match many people said we were weak, that they did not believe in us, but the lads improved with every game," continued Hasanov.

"We did not have that international experience – this is the first time we have played in a competition like this. I'm sure the experience the lads have gained will help them when they move on to the U19 or senior national teams. They did very well in the last two matches."

©Sportsfile

The supporters chipped in, too. The encounter with Portugal attracted a competition record attendance of 33,000, the biggest for any UEFA youth fixture since the inaugural U17 and U19 seasons in 2001/02. "I don't believe my teams have ever played in front of such a crowd," said Hasanov. "Neither did my players, you could see that by their performance."

And so the show goes on without Azerbaijan. Portugal, Belgium, Germany and Austria have filled half of the quarter-final berths, with the lineup to be completed when the group stage concludes on Thursday. Hasanov believes the impact of the tournament in the Transcaucasian country will last long beyond the final on 21 May.

"This will give a big boost to the development of Azeri football," he predicted. "Football and infrastructure are being developed, new facilities are being built and many people are into football. Azerbaijan are worthy European Championship hosts."

©AFFA
©Sportsfile
©Sportsfile
©AFFA
©AFFA
©Sportsfile