ŽFK Ekonomist Nikšić will create more history for the youngest European football nation on Saturday when they become the first team to represent Montenegro in a UEFA women's club competition.
Ekonomist will compete in Slovakia in UEFA Women's Champions League qualifying Group 4 against hosts ŠK Slovan Bratislava, Belarusian side FC Bobruichanka and Polish champions RTP Unia Racibórz. That is their reward for having won Montenegro's maiden national women's championship in 2011/12, a fitting success given it was the Niksic club that pioneered the female game in their country when they were founded in 2007.
"We started from zero in a country without a tradition in women's football, and now we can proudly say that we deserved to be the first champions – not just for our impressive performances during the league, but because of everything we've done in recent years," said Ekonomist coach Zdravko Jauković. "The title was a reward for years of hard work."
If the title brought Jauković and his girls great pleasure, their European debut is something they have all dreamt about. "Thanks to the Football Federation of Montenegro's efforts and UEFA's help, we've got a chance to compete at the highest level as the first Montenegrin representatives in women's football," he said. "That makes us very proud. We are newcomers and don't have any illusions before the qualifying tournament. We will give it our best, that's all we can promise."
Jauković admitted to not knowing much about his team's future opponents, except that they boast far more experience. Given that Ekonomist's oldest player is 21, though, that was always going to be the case.
"Captain Jasna Djoković is 21, and from the 18 girls who will be at the mini-tournament we have nine Under-17 players," Jauković said. "They have great potential and I am absolutely sure that Ivana Krivokapić, Jelena Šturanović and Milica Vulić could be future football stars, providing they continue to work a lot and play plenty of matches. They are young but they have very strong personalities and I am sure they will not be afraid when they face more experienced and physically stronger players."
Many of those youngsters will make history again in October when Montenegro feature in the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship first qualifying round in the Netherlands – as the country's first female national side to play competitively. In charge will be Zoran Mijović, also the senior women's coach and director of the federation's UEFA grassroots programme.
"This time last year we just had a desire and plans to be part of European women's football," said Mijović. "In a very short period we have taken significant steps forward and now we have a club and one national team in UEFA competition. Just to be a participant is a big achievement for a country where girls didn't have a football culture before. Making women's football popular will always be our main objective."
Mijović's goal now is for the senior women's squad to enter competition. "Our U17 team is our future and the girls will show in October how talented they are," he said. "But we must think of the present too. Our senior team have played several friendlies, against Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I am satisfied with the performances. We are ready for serious challenges and I hope we show that when we start to play competitive matches."