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Sunday, January 27, 2019

DRAW MADE FOR 2019 CONIFA EUROPEAN FOOTBALL CUP

The draw for the 2019 CONIFA European Football Championship (EFC) was made this morning, 27 January, in the Polish city of Kraków. The tournament is scheduled to be held at the beginning of June in Artsakh (better known as Nagorno-Karabakh). Twelve teams were included in the draw, which took place in Kraków, Poland, at CONIFA's annual general meeting. They were split into three pots as follows:

POT A: Abkhazia, Artsakh (hosts), Padania (current champions), Székely Land
POT B: County of Nice, Donetsk, FA Sápmi, Western Armenia
POT C: Chameria, Luhansk, Sardinia, South Ossetia

Around half an hour before the draw was made, it was announced via Twitter that Lugansk would be withdrawing from the tournament and that their place would be taken by Kernow FA, representing Cornwall, who were included in the draw as first reserve should of the original twelve teams drop out before the tournament takes place. This tweet was later withdrawn as Luhansk were eventually included in the draw, the details of which are laid out below. His team might have been very briefly in the tournament and then out again, but the Kernow FA's Andrew Bragg was frank when he said that the "tournament was too soon for us, to be honest."

GROUP DRAW


GROUP A

Artsakh (hosts)
FA Sápmi
Lugansk


GROUP B

Abkhazia
County of Nice
Chameria


GROUP C

Padania
Donetsk
Sardinia


GROUP D

Székely Land
Western Armenia
South Ossetia 

One of the most eagerly-awaited games will be that between Székely Land and Western Armenia - not least by the two teams themselves, and Székely Land will be looking to improve on their fourth-place finish at last summer's World Football Cup. Technical director Áron Szabo told Pat's Football Blog that he was not disappointed with the draw, and was looking forward to crossing swords with Western Armenia for the second time in a year.

They met for the first time during the CONIFA World Football Cup, and although Székely Land won 4:0, Szabo said that "the game was not as easy as the score shows." He was fairly confident that his team can progress, adding "after [winning] Euro bronze in 2017 and a World Football Cup fourth place, we do not need any introduction. So, we definitely hope to advance and we'll see what'll happen next."

Western Armenia player-president Yagan Hratch remembered the game against Székely Land in London with rather less affection: "We lost 4:0..and we had a red card after ten minutes. But, now it will be different. It is a good group." Although they recently lost the first of a series of pre-arranged friendlies, he stated that "our team is stronger [than before the World Football Cup]', and that he was hopeful that his team will progress to the next stage. 

Both Szabo and Yagan admit to knowing nothing about the third team in their group, South Ossetia, although the Western Armenian chief is looking forward to the tournament itself and alluded to the cultural side of the competition: "It will be a three-stadium tournament, and [Artsakh] is a beautiful country. The opening ceremony will feature a famous Armenian group, The Voice of Artsakh. It should be great."

Meanwhile, there will be an all-Italian derby in Group C, where 2015 and 2017 EFC winners Padania have been drawn alongside Donetsk and compatriots Sardinia. CONIFA's new European president and Padania FA member Alberto Rischio said that "Padania would like to win the competition for the third time, winning the final at Stepanakert Stadium!" Coach Arturo Merlo echoed that sentiment, admitting that it is becoming "more difficult to play against teams from other federations, but we are very familiar with this tournament and we will work towards being [there or thereabouts] at the very end." 

Padania FA president Fabio Cerini kept it brief, and realistic: "It'll be a bit difficult for us because Sardinia have a good side, and we don't know [anything about] Donetsk."

Rischio had his CONIFA hat on when, talking about the tournament in general, he said that "we have some new teams, such as Lugansk, Donetsk, Sardinia, FA Sápmi and Chameria. It will be an amazing stage, and we will be bringing [together] the best CONIFA footballers from across Europe for our football fans."

Lugansk and Donetsk are representing two of the three breakaway regions of Ukraine, while FA Sápmi will be taking part on behalf of the Sami people of northern Scandinavia, and Chameria will be flying the flag for Greece's Cham population.

Also included in the draw are 2015 EFC winners County of Nice - who also won the inaugural World Football Cup competition in Sweden back in 2014 - and 2016 World Football Cup winners Abkhazia.

Initial reports from Kraków suggest that the tournament will take place between 2-9 June, but it should be stressed that these are yet to be confirmed. The correct dates, as well as the fixture-list, are expected to be made public in the coming days.

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to the aforementioned representatives for their contributions at extremely short notice; the official fixture-list will be published here as soon it is made available.

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