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Azerbaijan women enjoy UEFA visit

Coach Sissy Raith thanked UEFA for a "warm welcome" after her Azerbaijan squad preparing for the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup spent a week training in Nyon.

AFFA general secretary Elkhan Mammadov and Karen Espelund, chairwoman of the UEFA Women's Football Committee
AFFA general secretary Elkhan Mammadov and Karen Espelund, chairwoman of the UEFA Women's Football Committee ©UEFA.com

The Azerbaijan women's Under-16 team were full of praise for their "warm welcome" after a week-long training camp in Switzerland as guests of UEFA.

The team preparing to compete as hosts of the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, from 22 September until 13 October next year, were based at the UEFA Centre of Football Excellence opposite UEFA's Nyon headquarters.

As well as training sessions and meetings with UEFA specialists, the squad played two friendlies at Colovray Stadium, losing 2-1 to Team Vaud on Wednesday and 2-0 to two late goals against Switzerland's women's U16s on Friday. Those were respectable results for a side who have been working hard in recent months, training in Germany then last month securing two wins against Georgia and a victory and a draw versus Moldova.

Their German coach Sissy Raith, part of the squad that won the 1989 and 1991 UEFA European Women's Championship and formerly in charge of FC Bayern München and men's team TSV Eching, told UEFA.com: "It's a fantastic opportunity for us to train here under professional conditions. We are based in a nice hotel, we have the chance to get an insight into how UEFA works, and we see things that not too many players get to see. We have been warmly welcomed and if we go abroad our aim is always to play as many games as possible."

Switzerland coach Béatrice von Siebenthal added: "It was special to play a team you wouldn't normally play against, which made it extremely interesting and exciting. It was a good game and it was even until the end."

Among those watching that match were UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, the general secretary of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) Elkhan Mammadov, the general secretary of the Swiss Football Association (SFV-ASF) Alex Miescher, and UEFA Executive Committee member by invitation and chairwoman of the UEFA Women's Football Committee, Karen Espelund.

"It's extremely nice to observe what Azerbaijan has done over the past few years in terms of their development and FIFA appointing them to stage the U17 World Cup," Espelund said." It's good cooperation because on one side, Azerbaijan needs to put a legacy into this [tournament] which is not only the organisational part and they are very aware of that.

"By using the World Cup as a kind of platform, UEFA is able to work more with Azerbaijan and see them cooperate with the Swiss association and they can study their facilities and exchange ideas while being based at Colovray. It shows an inspiration to others that smaller nations in terms of women's football can stage such a competition and build this legacy. I'm sure that in Azerbaijan, there can be an inspiration for generations from this."

Women's football continues to grow in importance and numbers – UEFA counts more than 1.8 million registered female players in Europe. UEFA's continued commitment to the women's game was highlighted in December 2010 when the Executive Committee decided to allocate €100,000 to each of UEFA's 53 member associations every year between 2012 and 2016 for developing the sport.

In addition, four national associations were selected to receive €50,000 of extra funding as part of a women's football development pilot scheme. This has already led to the Republic of Ireland establishing a national women's league and Portugal staging a women's football day. Following the success of the pilot scheme, it was decided to renew the operation for the 2011/12 season, increasing the availability of funding to all national associations.