World Cup qualifying is upon us again. The much anticipated visit of the Czech Republic’s national team to the Republican Stadium in Yerevan is scheduled for March 26. This match is the next big test for Armenia, and it will be a stern test. Sitting on three points after three matches and slightly off the pace in fourth place in Group B, it has been a long winter wait for Armenia to remedy the situation.
Preparations for the match began in February when Coach Minasyan ran out an experimental side in Valance, France, where he saw his team record a 1-1 draw against Luxembourg. With three qualifiers of the current campaign in the books and the fourth match less than a week away, the experimentation continues. Unfortunately for Minasyan and for Armenia there are some serious problems that need to be addressed in the lead up to the Czech match—problems forced upon the management due to injuries, suspensions, and the lack of experienced depth in Armenia’s defense.
Minasyan has been working hard to address these problems, inviting promising young players to the national team training camps and scouting numerous other prospects. New additions Artem Khatchaturov and Karen Muradyan made an impression in their first international appearance last month, and may be called upon to face the Czechs as Armenia finds themselves very light at the back and in midfield.
Established members of the squad Karlen Mkrtchyan, Artur Yedigaryan, and Hrayr Mkoyan are unavailable for selection due to suspension. Joining those absentees are Levon Airapetian and Aras Özbiliz, both out due to injury. With such a high rate of attrition in the squad, the difficult task ahead of Minasyan becomes all too clear.
It was a similar story for Armenia in their previous qualifier against Italy at the end of 2012. Suspensions and injuries hurt Armenia as they came up short in that match, despite a valiant effort. Everyone waving a tricolor in Yerevan Tuesday night will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself and that Armenia can transcend their problems and prevail, with a little help from the home-town crowd. As a final tune-up before the match, Armenia’s senior squad is set to play the Under 21’s in Yerevan on Thurs., March 21. That will provide Minasyan another chance to evaluate his choices before next week’s tie.
On the other hand, the Czech Republic welcomes back their captain Tomáš Rosický and goalkeeper Petr Cech. The Czechs remains undefeated in the highly competitive Group B, with a pair of scoreless draws against Denmark and Bulgaria to go with their 3:1 home win over Malta, a match that was all square at the half. Those were very tight results that could have gone either way, but such are the fine lines that teams tread in this group. The countries that are perennially “there or there abouts” when it comes to qualifying for tournaments tend to grind out results in those close matches. The goals haven’t been flying in for the Czechs in this campaign so it’ll be up to a make-shift Armenia defense to continue that trend in Yerevan.
Last month, while the Armenian team was in Valence, the Czech Republic beat Turkey by a score of 2:0 in a friendly. With plenty of regulars sitting out that match for the Czechs, it is hard to gauge how that performance relates to the upcoming qualifier in terms of personnel and tactics. However, following their decent showing at last summer’s Euro 2012 finals, where they topped their group before exiting to Portugal in the knock-out stages, and with their recent run of form, the Czechs will still pose plenty of questions of Armenia.
As a side note, Armenia has slipped in the FIFA rankings in recent months, being unable to maintain the consistency they enjoyed in 2011. Although the rankings are of little importance during a campaign, they do set the seeding for future competitions. As was explained in the article “FIFA World Rankings and Armenia: What’s in a number?” that appeared in the Armenian Weekly, significant jumps in ranking can be realized by beating decent opposition. With the Czechs currently ranked 27 in the world, FIFA’s ranking prognosis tool suggests a victory next week will set Armenia on an upward trajectory in the rankings again, potentially moving up some 27 places. At the very least, it is a great opportunity for Armenia to set the tone for the rest of the campaign with a solid performance in front of their home supporters.
Armenia Squad: R. Berezovsky (GK), G. Kasparov (GK), A. Harutyunian (GK), R. Arzumanyan (D), V. Aleksanyan (D), A. Khatchaturov (D), K. Hovhannisyan (D), Artak Yedigaryan (D), V. Haroyan (D), A. Avakian (D), K. Muradyan (M), H. Mkhitaryan (M), G. Ghazaryan (M), D. Manoyan (M), M. Pizzelli, Z. Badoyan (M), E. Malakyan (M), Y. Movsisyan (F), A. Sarkisov (F), E. Manucharyan (F)
Coach: V. Minasyan
Czech Republic: P. Čech (GK), J. Laštŭvka (GK), T. Vaclik (GK), M. Kadlec (D), T. Sivok (D), T. Gebre Selassie (D), D. Limberský (D), M. Suchý (D), M. Latka (D), F. Rajtoral (D), T. Rosický (M), T. Hübschman (M), J. Plašil (M), V. Darida (M), P. Jiracek (M), L. Krejčí (M), B. Dočkal (M), D. Kolar (M), D. Lafata (F), M. Vydra (F), S. Tecl (F), T. Pekhart (F)
Coach: Michael Bílek