Inaugural Copa Federal reflecting sustainable growth of women's football in Argentina

  • More than 400 clubs from all over the country participated in the first edition

  • The competition is being funded by the FIFA Forward Programme

  • Stakeholders give their thoughts on the inaugural staging

UAI Urquiza emerged as winners of the first edition of Argentina’s Copa Federal, the women's football tournament that brought together more than 400 clubs from 44 leagues across the country with the help of financing from the FIFA Forward Programme. The tournament, which corresponded to the 2021 season and had been postponed due to the pandemic, is part of the Estrategia Integral de Fútbol Femenino 2021-2025 (Comprehensive Women’s Football Strategy 2021-2025) that the Argentinian Football Association (AFA), with the support of FIFA, unveiled in 2020. Within that framework, FIFA, through its Forward Programme, has contributed 900,000 dollars towards the staging of the first three editions of the tournament. "The Copa Federal is part of our strategic objectives because tournaments are a driver of growth," Luis Castro, the AFA's Development Manager, tells FIFA.com. "Working with the Federal Committee, we’re staging a national tournament for clubs that are not directly affiliated with the AFA. Federalizing the event has a multiplier effect with results in the short, medium and long term," he says.

"As well as widening the player base, the mapping we did of the whole country is key. In football terms, we’re not just having an impact on women players, but also on the professionals involved in this tournament, generating better quantitative and qualitative conditions for the practice of the sport," adds Castro, who explains that the funds provided by FIFA are being used for transport, accommodation, referees and health insurance, among other expenses. "For the Americas Subdivision it was a pleasure to have been able to contribute to the planning of the Copa Federal and to have witnessed the final of this first edition," says Rafael Arias, Manager of the FIFA Regional Development Office in Asuncion.

Image of the final of the Women Copa Federal of Argentina final between UAI Urquiza and Boca Juniors, played in Sarandi, Buenos Aires, February 12. Photo: courtesy of AFA Desarrollo

"The boost that the AFA is giving women's football is very significant, and we’re sure that the next editions of the tournament, which are also being financed by the Forward Programme, will continue to impact hundreds of clubs and players throughout the country," adds Arias. To qualify for the tournament’s National phase, the Federal Committee’s teams had to progress from regional and provincial competitions in late 2021. This enabled eight sides from seven different regions to qualify for the final phase, where they were joined by the top eight teams from the First Division’s professional championship. The 16 qualifiers faced off in straight knockout games at the AFA’s ground in Ezeiza and at River Camp. The final was staged at Arsenal’s stadium in Sarandi, with no crowd due to public health restrictions but with a live television broadcast going countrywide. In a repeat of the deciding game of First Division Championship, UAI Urquiza made amends by beating Boca Juniors 2-1, with the pair set to meet again in the first edition of the Supercopa Femenina.

Promising conclusions

"On balance, it’s been very positive," Diego Turnes, vice president of the AFA's Women's Football Committee, tells FIFA.com. "This Cup was essential in terms of integrating teams from the interior. We know that there are many players who must be given the chance to shine, but we also realise that we can generate conditions and incentives for their clubs to work harder and better." Turnes explains what it meant for the first edition to have the backing of television channels. "The broadcast agreement (with Public TV and DeporTV) has helped us to make all this visible. They had been broadcasting league matches, and now they’re supporting the Copa Federal. Not a lot of people know that several games had higher viewer ratings than some men's fixtures." The final phase games that were not televised were live streamed via the AFA Development YouTube channel. That content generated more than 100,000 views, while the final attracted 60 accredited journalists.

First-hand experience

Paola Soto, president of the Women's Football Department of the AFA Federal Committee and the AFA’s Secretary of Development, looked elated after the final. "Five years ago, this would have been unthinkable, and the key has been teamwork, including FIFA. We don't want to skip stages. Yes, there are things to correct, but the goal is for women’s football to be different 10 years from now, and for that to be reflected not only here in Buenos Aires, but in the interior leagues as well." Soto makes the point that the Federal Committee’s eight finalists travelled hundreds of kilometres in the preceding stages, acquiring valuable experiences along the way. Moreover, "their players felt professional during the final phase, as they were spending time and competing with top-flight players."

The momentum that the AFA is giving to women's football is very important.

Rafel Arias (Gerente de la Oficina Regional de la FIFA en Asunción)

One person who can testify to that is Daiana Tarifeno, a delegate (and emergency goalkeeper) of Barliloche club Luna Park, the only representative of the Federal Committee to reach the quarter-finals – a feat achieved after beating first division side El Porvenir on penalties. "We struggled to put together a squad, travelled more than 800 kilometres in order to qualify and then another 1300 to get to Buenos Aires. However, it was worth it. After the pairings were drawn, we were anxious about what facing a team from 'the real football world' would be like. And it was wonderful!" Before their showdown with Rosario Central for a semi-final place, their starting goalkeeper tested positive for COVID. With their reserve keeper unable to get time off work, Tarifeno, a defender until an ankle injury put an end to that, pulled on the gloves. "In the opposite goal was Vanina Correa, the Argentina keeper! I looked at her and couldn’t believe it. Afterwards I had my picture taken with her," she confesses, still enraptured.

Luna Park's Daiana Tarifeño and Rosario Central Vanina Correa

In the end, Luna Park went down 1-0, but the closeness of the game did not surprise them. "Among teams from the interior, there is a very high level, although we lack a lot on the physical and organizational side. The Cup made these things clear, but it also opened doors and had a contagious effect, uniting women's football. We’ll work hard to be in this position again or to support clubs from region that take our place. If our leagues improve, then we all improve." Luis Castro finishes by saying that, if possible, they will complete the 2022 edition this calendar year, and that the goal is to have 32 teams in the National phase, comprising 16 from the Federal Committee (two from each region), eight from Primera A (the first division), six from Primera B and two from Primera C. "That way, all the categories within the sport would be included," he says. "Along with the work of the Women's Football Committee, with the support of FIFA and the other stakeholders, we had a huge impact in every sense. Unquestionably, we’ll reap many dividends later, but the path we’re now on, with a sustainable plan, is the right one."

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