In a storm of colour and noise on Sunday night in Stepanakert, the CONIFA European Football Cup 2019 drew to a close. Eight teams, 20 games, eight days, one winner...and five pretty seismic upsets. Let’s dive into the most unpredictable CONIFA Euros yet. 

South Ossetia Being Crowned Champions

Shall we get the obvious one out of the way early? Nobody expected South Ossetia to be the best team in Artsakh. Only Chameria came in at longer odds before kickoff on 2nd June, but the Ossetians defied the odds time and again.

Batradz Gurtsiev was a huge part of that – finishing as top scorer and winning the Defy the Odds prize for player of the tournament – but it was South Ossetia’s number 77 Ibrahim Bazaev who scored the goal which decided the final, in the most astonishing circumstances.

His second half free kick sailed over the wall, past Western Armenia’s goalkeeper, and out onto the running track behind the goal. Except...he’d scored, the ball sneaking through a hole in the net and...shall we say, confusing things somewhat.

When Western Armenia’s Aghvan Davoyan stepped up to take a 98th minute penalty, in front of a packed-out, partizan Stepanakert stadium, he had the chance to make sure a fourth consecutive CONIFA final was decided by penalties. He stepped up. Muhaberg Buzaev dived to his right and made the save. The final whistle blew. South Ossetia won.  

Chameria 4-1 Artsakh

What can be said about Chameria’s Marko van basten Çema that hasn’t been said already? 6’6 with a 5’3 strike partner. Literally named after Marco van Basten. Unfailingly pleasant and generous – off the pitch, at least. Proponent of panenka penalties. Scorer of two goals in the rank outsiders’ second game of the tournament, taking them to a stunning win over the hosts.

Chameria had looked good for a half against Abkhazia the day before, but lost 3-1. Artsakh had won their opening game, buoyed by massive home support and the impressive Marat Karapetyan. Then Chameria scored three times from the 85th minute onwards and tore the prevailing narrative to shreds on their way to a semi-final penalty shootout defeat.

All photos by Theo McInnes

Western Armenia 5-0 Székely Land

Crikey. For Western Armenia to do this to Székely Land...might have been the single biggest shock result of the tournament. This is a Székely Land team who were World Football Cup semi-finalists just 12 scant months ago – but the Armenians put on a true spectacle to romp to victory over the tournament second-favourites. 

Székely Land’s opening match was a 4-0 loss to Padania, but hey – the Italian team were the overwhelming favourites to win the whole thing. It was a surprise, but not a shock.

Then Western Armenia met them in Askeran the next day and...this happened. The Armenians had never passed a quarter-final in CONIFA competition, and were thrashed by Székely Land 4-0 in London just a year ago. That’s a nine-goal swing, if you’re counting. An astonishing turnaround, and it put them on the road to a well-deserved spot in the final.

South Ossetia 2-1 Padania

It’s impossible not to return to South Ossetia again. The team from the South Caucasus turned the tournament on its head so many times, most of all on the second day of matches.

All-conquering Padania came into the match off the back of a resounding 4-0 win over Székely Land, confirmed – we thought – their status as the overpowering force ready to waltz to their third straight European Football Cup success.

Batradz Gurtsiev put paid to that. The Defy the Odds prize winner struck early in the second half to put the champions on the back foot, allowing teammate Bazayev – scorer of the only goal in the final six days later – to double the lead as Padania tried desperately to fight back. The Italians scored once, but it wasn’t enough.

Padania Being Knocked Out

Yes! I’m going to talk about Padania again! It’s one of the biggest shocks in CONIFA history that they didn’t make it out of their group! They were so comfortably the favourites! Hell, they hadn’t lost a single one of their ten previous games in European competition!

It’s easy to forget that their tournament started with a 4-0 win over Székely Land. Then their 2-1 defeat to South Ossetia was followed by a 1-1 draw with Western Armenia and...that was it. What happened? It wasn’t Padania’s fault. Not really. Everyone just underestimated how competitive the rest of the teams in Artsakh would be.

CONIFA football has reached a point where having one clear favourite is unrealistic, there are just too many good teams for that to be viable. As much as Padania bore the brunt this time, it’s only a good thing for the organisation going forward.

Padania finished the tournament in sixth place, beating Sapmi in their first placement game before falling 2-0 to the hosts in Stepanakert in the 5th/6th playoff. They’ll be back.

To look back on the CONIFA European Football Cup 2019 journey, and to see more moments of defiance and photos from the tournament, please visit