CONIFA Soccer Cup Kicks Off in Artsakh

The Artsakh Team on the field at Stepenakert Stadium during the opening ceremonies of CONIFA 2019

Artsakh Wins Match; Western Armenia Team Also Represented

The Republic of Artsakh was the setting for the grand opening of CONIFA European Football Cup 2019, which kicked off on Saturday at the Stepanekert Stadium. Before the start of the event the management of CONIFA and the Organizing Committee held a press conference, where they presented the preparation activities, the specifics of the tournament held in Artsakh, and also talked about the expectations for the tournament.

“We have members from all the continents. We represent 370 million people. I am amazed at the hospitable and warm attitude of the Artsakh people. One of the missions of CONIFA is to introduce Artsakh to the world,” said Per-Anders Blind, CONIFA President.

“I am sure that we’ll have a fantastic tournament. I appreciate the hard work of the last months. And I am sure that the championship held in Artsakh will set a new criteria for all the upcoming championships,” said Alberto Rischio, CONIFA Europe President.

“We did everything to have a high-level and exclusive event for Artsakh. All 4 stadia were renovated and all together can host up to 14,000 people. Also, we are looking forward to more than 50 cultural programmes and a large-scale opening ceremony,” said Grigori Martirosyan, President of CONIFA European Football Cup Organizing Committee, and State Minister of the Republic of Artsakh.

This type of large-scale event is being held in Artsakh for the first time. Last year, when submitting to host the CONIFA championship, Artsakh set a goal to be introduced as a young, sporty, goal-oriented, and determined country.

“Unfortunately, not all pre-registered teams were able to participate in the championship, nevertheless, it was not an obstacle for us to organise a real fest for guests and people of Artsakh,” added Martirosyan.

The real festival started in the evening. All the participating teams walked through the stadium. The Artsakh, President Bako Sahakian, and CONIFA President, Per-Anders Blind, gave their opening speeches.

Sahakian, spoke of “an important event in the life of Artsakh”, praising the “rigorous and hard work” of the tournament organizers and volunteers.

“Football,” he said, “unites people, builds friendship [and] fosters humanitarian contact.” There was a sense of immense pride from the entire stadium when he expressed his hope that the Artsakh athletes taking part could be a source of inspiration for the entire country.

And on a night on which the soccer world’s attention was fixed on the UEFA Champions’ League final in Madrid, CONIFA President Per-Anders Blind had a different perspective: “Tonight the capital of Europe is Stepanakert”—a sentiment echoed by CONIFA’s Europe President, Alberto Rischio.

Then the festivities truly began. The ceremony was a real celebration of Artsakh culture and identity, and the country’s shared heritage with Armenia, characterized by a blend of modernity and tradition.

Then we had traditional Armenian and Artsakh instruments, the young piano maestro Anahit Arushanyan, a tribute to French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour by Oxana Baburyan, and Armenia’s answer to the Gipsy Kings, Manolo and the Gipsy Gitanes, putting in a rousing performance of Bamboléo, all held together by trilingual banter between the three hosts, representing Artsakh, Armenia, and the huge diaspora around the world.

But the highlight was undoubtedly Sirusho, one of the most famous and popular Armenian-language singers – and the country’s representative at the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. Her set, rapturously received by screams and cheers, blended Armenian religious and historical themes with contemporary modern pop.

Closing the ceremony was Artur Grigoryan, the legendary Armenian singer and pianist, joined by percussionist Erna in a composition written specially for the tournament, simply titled Artsakh. And as the fireworks began to unfold over the stadium, it was a fitting end to an incredible night.

A scene from the Artsakh-Spami match

A scene from the Artsakh-Spami match

Artsakh Wins Opening Match
The matches officially started on Sunday, with Artsakh’s national team beating Sapmi 3 to 2 in the opening match of Cup.

Norik Mkrtchyan, Arsen Sarkissian and Dmitry Malyaka scored for Artsakh. Western Armenia lost to South Ossetia 2-1.

Artsakh will host to the CONIFA cup until June 9. The matches will be played in four cities—Stepanakert, Askeran, Martuni and Martakert.

This year’s tournament features 12 teams, including that of Western Armenia.

The Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) is the international governing body for non-FIFA-affiliated Association of Football. CONIFA was formed in 2013. The organization brings together 54 federations, hence there are 54 teams under the CONIFA banner. The mission of CONIFA is to give a chance to federations, players not included in FIFA to demonstrate their abilities, to develop as athletes and individuals. CONIFA European Football Cup 2019 is Europe’s third tournament.


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