Venues Undecided for Armenian-Azerbaijani Football Matches
FFA: “The venue should not be changed”
When the qualifying groups for Euro 2008 were drawn in Montreux, Switzerland in January 2006, many people asked themselves whether the matches between the national football teams of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Group A would take place.
But the doubts were dispersed by UEFA's resolute stance on the matter. A few days after the draw, the game schedule for the Group A was approved and the first game between Armenia and Azerbaijan was set for September 8, 2007 inBakuand the second game for September 12, 2007 in Yerevan.
There is no doubt that the national teams of the two neighboring countries will play, but the question is, where? The question emerged because of the hysterical attitude of Azerbaijan. From the very outset the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) raised the question of playing the game at a neutral stadium. AFFA even sent a letter to the football federations of all the UEFA member states (with the exception ofArmenia) which stated, in particular: “Armeniais an aggressor state… That is whyAzerbaijanhas had no economic, cultural, political and any other relations withArmeniafor more than 15 years. Armenian sportsmen do not participate in international competitions held in our country. Besides, we would also like to inform you that our nation does not agree to hold the home match against the national team ofArmeniainAzerbaijan.”
The Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) has stated on several occasions thatArmeniais ready to provide the Azerbaijani football delegation with all the necessary guarantees if it decides to come toYerevan.
“I believe that it is possible and I hope that it will be possible to hold a similar match inBaku,” Foreign Minister of Armenia Vartan Oskanian told the Russian newspaper Vremya Novosty. The prime minister ofArmeniahas on behalf of the government of Armenia also stated thatArmeniawas ready to receive the Azerbaijani national team at a proper level, organize the match, and guarantee the security of players and fans.
FFA has also expressed its readiness to travel toBakuif the Azerbaijani side provides security guarantees. But the Azerbaijani side insists on its choice of a neutral venue, saying that it is unable to provide for the security of the Armenian delegation.
In April 2006 then-executive director of UEFA Lars-Christer Olsson told journalists inYerevanthat “ UEFA wants the matches to be held in both countries, but there are certain difficulties.” In May 2006 the delegations of FFA and AFFA met inNyon,Switzerlandwith the participation of UEFA representatives. But neither side altered its stance: the Armenian side offered to hold the matches at home stadiums and the Azerbaijani side insisted on a neutral stadium in a third country.
In January 2007 at the 31 st UEFA Congress in Düsseldorf, Germany, the two sides failed to reach an agreement. The same thing happened at the April 12 meeting between the delegations of FFA and AFFA in Nyon.
Following the prolonged disagreements, UEFA has taken the charge of the issue in accordance with its bylaws. And it seemed that the issue was at last going to be solved during the April 18 session of the UEFA executive committee. But that didn't happen, and the issue was tabled until June 23. According to UEFA rules the issue should be finally resolved at least 60 days prior to the matches. But we cannot rule out the possibility that clarification may take until July.
Chairman of the Armenian Football Federation Ruben Hayrapetyan has already declared that theYerevanmatch should not be taken to a neutral venue since the government of Armenia will provide the Azerbaijani football delegation for security guarantees. Otherwise, the FFA will appeal to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport and seek that the home match be held inYerevan. As for the match to be held inBaku, the Armenian Federation will abide by the UEFA decision.
Many people both in Armenia and Azerbaijan expect that UEFA will rule to hold the Azerbaijan-Armenia match on a neutral stadium and the return match inYerevan.
History is in Azerbaijan's favor
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenian and Azerbaijani football clubs and national teams have played with each other five times. Unfortunately, history is in Azerbaijan's favor.
The two neighboring countries have met three times at the level of the junior national teams during the qualifying stage of the European championship. In 2004, and under-19 match in Macedonia ended in a draw. In 2005 inIsrael, the Azerbaijani team won the under-17 match 3:0. A third match was played in Cyprus in 2006—under-19 teams met our neighbors won 2:1.
Two matches were played between Armenian and Azerbaijani clubs in the Commonwealth Cup Tournament. In 2005 inMoscow, Neftchi from Baku beat Pyunik from Yerevan 2:0. And in 2006 a match between the same clubs was canceled because Pyunik refused to play and was given a technical defeat.
Statistics are on Azerbaijan's side, but that but it doesn't mean much for the results in the upcoming matches. Besides, after independence the Armenian national team has mostly been above Azerbaijanin the annual FIFA ranking. But in the rankings published this month,Armeniais 127 th andAzerbaijanis 103 rd . Of course, it is not the figures that decide; everything depends on the game.
P.S. In the qualifying stage of Euro-2008 the national women's under-19 teams from Armenia and Azerbaijan are to play against each other for the first time. The qualifying group competition was supposed to take place in Azerbaijan, but again the anti-Armenian stance shown by Azerbaijan has forced UEFA to move the Group 7 qualifying matches to Ukraine.