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1 April 2024

Daughters of the Land of Fire: Women’s Football in Azerbaijan

Women's football in Azerbaijan persists and grows amid challenges, with rising participation among girls in Baku and other regions. Despite challenges, the Azerbaijan Women's National Football Team holds the 76th position in the FIFA Women's World Rankings out of 192 countries.

Azerbaijan Womens Football Team

Mana Mollayeva during an Azerbaijan vs Montenegro match. Image: courtesy

For Mana Mollayeva, her interest in football started with a soccer ball that her cousin brought her while visiting during a summer vacation. Born and raised in the Zagatala region of Azerbaijan, Mana spent her summer holidays playing in the garden with this ball and decided to be a football player.

Beginning her football journey at 12 in the local Zagatala club, Mana attributes much of her success to her first coach, Shaban Shirdanov, whose guidance played an important role in shaping her skills and ambitions.

In 2017, she was transferred to Russia's Kubanochka (Krasnodar) team and was noticed as one of the team’s best players. In 2019, she was transferred to Russia's Ryazan-VDV club.

Mana Mollayeva, now a successful midfielder of the Azerbaijan Women's National Team, is also a player of Baku's Neftchi FC.

"My mother was my greatest supporter, and later, my father also backed my passion for football. Knowing that my family and friends are proud of me is my biggest motivation," says Mollayeva, emphasizing that football has taught her resilience and enabled her to rise stronger after every setback.

The history of women's football in Azerbaijan dates back to the Soviet period. In the 1980s, teams began to be formed to develop women's football in the USSR. Among the women's football teams created was "Bakili," where Irada Guliyeva and Mehpara Aliyeva were well-known players.

Azerbaijan's women's football team joined the Euro Championship qualifiers in November 2006. But in 2009, AFFA axed the team. They were revived in 2019, and played in the EURO-2021 qualifiers.

Image: AFFA

Despite its difficulties, the Azerbaijan Women's National Football Team ranks 76th in the FIFA Women's World Rankings, which includes 192 countries. Last year, the Women's National Team finished the UEFA Nations League as the group winner with five wins and one draw. Additionally, this year, the national champion club will earn the opportunity to participate in the Champions League. The team’s players also play for teams such as Türkiye’s Galatasaray, Trabzonspor, Beşiktaş, Greece’s PAOK, and Russia’s Zenit.

One of the obstacles to women's football in Azerbaijan is the imposed stereotypes. But the situation seems to be changing. According to Mana Mollayeva, people have become more open-minded towards women's football compared to previous years, but sometimes female football players can also face condescending attitudes: “I have come across words such as ‘Your place is in the kitchen’ and ‘Go sit at home’ many times. But this does not stop girls with great ambitions,” says Mollayeva.