Those who follow the game closely might remember that last year, London played host to a tantalising appetizer in advance of Russia 2018. The CONIFA version of the World Cup is contested by those football associations that are not affiliated to FIFA, and the 2,500 people who visited Queen Elizabeth II stadium on a wet afternoon last June bore witness to a World Cup final that was every bit as important to the participants as the higher profile event that took place in Russia a few weeks later.
The 2019 CONIFA European Cup
This year, CONIFA will be staging a European Cup, and is looking to build on the success of last year’s event. The 2019 CONIFA European Championship will take place this summer in Artsakh from 01 June to 09 June, in an event that will put both CONIFA and Artsakh on the map.
If you have never heard of Artsakh before, rest assured that you are not alone. It gained de facto independence following a conflict in the early 1990s, but the road to peace has been a long one, and Artsakh is still not formally recognised by the international community. Despite the conflicts of recent decades, Artsakh has managed to assemble a football team and has been an enthusiastic participant in CONIFA’s tournaments ever since the first CONIFA World Cup that took place in 2014.
CONIFA’s European Director is Alberto Rischio, and he told the press: “Given their long-term involvement in the CONIFA family, we were delighted when the Artsakh Football Federation first expressed interest in hosting the tournament.”
Format & Participants
The hosts will welcome 11 other teams to the week-long tournament, including Padania, the team that has won both CONIFA European Cups to date. They beat County of Nice in the 2015 Debrecan event, and in 2017, they defeated that year’s host nation, Northern Cyprus.
The 12 teams will be split into four groups, and the top two teams from each group will then contest the quarterfinals. Unsurprisingly, given that they are unbeaten in tournament history, Padania will be tournament favourites, although the hosts and 2017’s defeated finalists, Northern Cyprus, are also expected to be among the top teams to beat.
The full list of participants is as follows. Kernow has been named as a reserve team in case any of the qualifying teams is unable to participate.
- Artsakh, the host nation
- Sápmi, a region of Scandinavia also known as Lapland
- Luhansk, a territory of Eastern Ukraine that has been the subject of dispute
- Abkhazia, a de facto nation on the Black Sea that won the 2016 CONIFA World Cup
- County of Nice, the 2014 CONIFA World Cup winners, representing a region of France
- Chameria, a team from a small region of Albania
- Padania from Northern Italy, the tournament favourites and current title holders
- Donetsk, another disputed territory on the border of Ukraine and Russia
- Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy
- Székely Land, the top-seeded team in this group, representing ethnic Hungarians living in central Romania
- Western Armena, which represents the indigenous Armenian people
- South Ossetia, a territory in the Caucasus that is officially part of Georgia but declared independence in the1990s.
A Unique Cultural Experience
If you like visiting new places that are off the traditional tourist trails and enjoy watching football, then a trip to Artsakh to watch the CONIFA European Cup is well worth considering. Per-Anders Blind, the CONIFA President, told reporters of the warm welcome he and other delegates from CONIFA had received in Artsakh’s capital city, Stepanakert. He went on to say: “We are confident that participating teams, fans and travelling media will enjoy the same experience.”
Artsakh is working hard to put its war-torn past behind it, and despite its torrid history, it is considered a safe place for tourists to visit. Stepanakert can be reached via the Armenian city of Yerevan, from where there are regular minibus services. The 200 mile journey takes about six hours, and is inexpensive. Stepanakert also has a small airport, and although there are plans to commence regular flights to Yerevan, these have not yet commenced.