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Women's football is flourishing in many parts of Europe – thanks to the diligence of national associations in getting girls and women interested in the sport. A glowing example of how the female game is growing comes from Montenegro.
This is an exciting period for women's football in Montenegro. The Football Federation of Montenegro (FSCG), which became a UEFA member association in 2007, started from scratch and can be proud of its progress. A 400% rise in registered players has gone hand in hand with competitive debuts on the European stage at both youth and senior levels.
"We started from nothing," FSCG women's Under-17 coach Zoran Mijović told UEFA.com. "Now we have three national teams, 12 clubs and up to 300 players. [In 2010] we had four clubs and 50–60 players. Women's football was at a very low level.
"The idea was to improve and develop. We did not expect that it would improve this quickly. The important thing is that football is the most popular sport, and that girls like playing football. Finally, they have a chance to play football in Montenegro."
The federation got itself organised and has pushed women's football high on the agenda. "Women's football in Montenegro has been developing in the last three to four years," said FSCG general secretary Momir Djurdjevac. "Not many clubs in Montenegro participated in tournaments or played tough matches abroad. There was neither an organised approach nor a league in Montenegro. We realised that if we left clubs alone and approached the development of women's football superficially, there would be no women's football in Montenegro.
"We decided to start a tournament called the Trophy of Montenegro," Djurdjevac added. "We gathered the teams that existed at that time in Montenegro. That was the beginning of organised women's football here."
Since then, it has been onwards and upwards, and a competition debut in this season's UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship proved quite a success, with two wins out of three matches in their first qualifying round group tournament in the Netherlands.
"Literally, we had only 26 girls of that age available," said Zoran Mijović. "In comparison with big countries like Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the Netherlands who were in our group, that is a really small number of girls. However, I think in the ten months from forming the team till the competition in the Netherlands, we developed lots of activities and an excellent plan.
"After a winter training camp, we met every week with the girls. They played friendly matches against either boys or older girls. They played four two-legged friendly ties against national teams from countries in the region. In the end, we played [in Group 8] in the Netherlands and I think we had great success. We had two wins, which nobody expected." Moreover, nine of the squad flew in an aeroplane for the first time en route to the tournament.
Sandra Mijović, coordinator for women's football development in Montenegro, is relishing how people are warming to the game's improvement. "When I look back at everything we achieved in 2012 ... We have three teams, we have a league that is working well, we were in the Netherlands where we achieved a fantastic result – when I see happiness on the girls' faces when they are singing the national anthem, and how happy they are when they succeed.
"When I see people who didn't know women's football existed in Montenegro, or that women played football at all; when I see that now they recognise us, that they're interested in the girls and that they are following our success, then my heart is full and I say to myself: 'This is it. It is worth all my time and being away from home. Yes, it is worth it. I am proud to be part of this.'"
Naturally, the women's U17 players are proud about representing their country and acting as pioneers for the sport in Montenegro. "When I was a little girl and began playing football, everyone was telling me football is not for girls," said midfielder Darija Djukić. "They were saying it is a man's sport. In the last year people have changed their opinion about women's football."
"We have our role models from the national team and some other big clubs," added defender Tatjana Djurković. "We would like to become similar role models for younger girls. We would be proud if someone saw us as a good example."