Armenia vs. Turkey: Time for Round Two

The much-anticipated second Armenian vs. Turkey soccer match was played on Oct. 14 with only a few changes from the previous encounter:

Fans during the Turkey-Armenia match
Fans during the Turkey-Armenia match

The game was in Bursa, Turkey, in front of a majority Turkish crowd.

“I know our soccer fans in Bursa and in the rest of the country will behave like respectable fans,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters. “I believe our country and the citizens of Bursa will not bow their heads to politics and to the aims of those who want to use the game to achieve something else.”

Armenian Americans looking forward to the match were disappointed after learning it wouldn’t be televised, not even on the satellite channel Setanta Sports U.S.A. Only those lucky enough to have a strong internet connection were able to take in the spectacle, via live streaming from a Turkish broadcast station.

Oh, right, there was also the minor issue of Armenian President Serge Sarkisian attending the match, as a guest of Turkish President Abdullah Gul, to show unity in face of the recently signed protocols.

The night started with both teams on the field, and as the Armenian National Anthem (“Mer Hairenik”) played, a mixed reaction came from the crowd. While the Armenian side of the stadium roared and waved flags in solitary and support of their club, the sold out Turkish side hissed. When the Turkish anthem followed, flags—both Turkish and Azerbaijani—were raised while “The Independence March” was sung.

After the festivities came to an end and the two presidents were side by side in the presidents’ box, the referee blew his whistle and the match began with Armenia strong out of the gate, taking control of the ball and tempo.

The Armenians were down their best player, Edgar Manucharyan (he was forced to withdraw due to injuries.), but didn’t let this affect their game plan—which seemed to be, force Turkey to come to them, control, then attack.

For the first 10 minutes, Armenia was the better team, quieting the Turkish supporters and even drawing a yellow card, for dissent, on Turkish defender Ceyhun Gulselam in the third minute.

However, once Turkey got the ball in the 12th minute, Armenia’s weaknesses (no defensive size, no midfield or team cohesion, and little experience) were exposed.

Turkey marched down the field in the 15th minute, from Gulselam up to the right side of midfield, a cross into the 6-yard box came next, which was placed, perfectly, on the head of striker Halil Altintop, who plays his club soccer at the German club, Schalke.

He quickly flicked his head and directed the ball past Armenia’s goalkeeper, Roman Berezovsky, into the back of the net, 1-0, first blood to Turkey, as the Armenians in attendance went silent, with heads in hands.

Down by a goal, Armenia looked deflated. Yet they pushed on, one goal and they would be back into the game.

From the president’s box, Sarkisian sat, stoic, next to a jubilant Gul and an on-looking Michel Platini, the president of European’s Soccer Body (UEFA). The noise was static, the Turks singing and urging their club on, wanting one more goal. On the other side, Armenian flags blew into the wind, not giving up the battle; a lot of soccer was still left to be played.

The minutes went by, the play went back and forth. Armenia wasn’t attacking, but Turkey was defending the lead. In the 28th minute, an innocent looking run within Armenia’s 18-yard box led to the second dagger in the heart of Armenia.

Servet Cetin found the ball on his left foot. With Armenian defenders all over the ball, Cetin got away for just a moment and shot the ball on goal. Berezovsky thought he had it lined up, But the ball kept on bending into the right corner and before he could adjust, the ball was behind, 2-0, Turkey. Berezovsky stood still in his net, shocked at the outcome.

Despite the larger deficit, Armenia’s side of the stadium kept their hopes and flags up, and just when the match seemed too far out of reach, Turkey gave Armenia a gift.

Armenian National Team and Belarusian club BATE Borisov striker Hovhannes Goharyan took a pass on his left foot, got behind the midfield, and was off. From his backside, defender Gulselam slid, with his cleat studs up, and took the feet from underneath Goharyan. As he got up, he swung his left index finger in a “disagreeing” motion, and knew what was coming next.

The referee went into his pocket and showed a yellow—but wait, he already had a yellow shown to him previously, back to the pocket—and out came the red card. Turkey was down to 10 men, with Gulselam walking to his locker room, head down in shame.

For the rest of the game, Armenia would play with a man advantage, 11-to-10. The tide was turned; as the Turkish flags disappeared, Armenians dominated, both on and off the field.

Gone were the exposed weaknesses, and returning was Armenia’s ball control, as the half came to an end, Armenia left the field, down two goals, but with 45 minutes to equalize.

The second half started as the first, Armenia came out on fire, and Turkey was at its heels. Confidence showed on the player’s faces. Sarkisian’s expression didn’t change, but Gul’s did.

Despite the effort, Armenia still didn’t create many scoring chances. Instead it was Turkey who came the closet to a goal, only the crossbar stopped Turkey from a staggering 3-0 lead.

When Turkey had gaps in defense, Armenia didn’t take advantage. Instead of passing to open players, going around the undermanned Turkey, strikers and midfields opted to take the ball through, which never worked and only left Armenia short defenders on the back end.

Now, in the 70th minute, Armenia, desperate and full of emotion, shot the ball from all angles, but none of the shots came close to fazing the Turkish goalkeeper, Volkan Demirel.

The shots kept coming, wide, high, blocked by the Turkish defender.

When the final whistle blew, the president’s shook hands and Turkey came away with another 2-0 victory over Armenia, sending their coach (his last game as head coach for Turkey) into the sunlight with a win.

Armenians, however, do not feel disappointed over this loss. Despite their injured player, the team made drastic improvements from the September 2008 match. Their play making and ball control were all better; in fact, they looked like Spain at times. This team is getting there and could be a major contender in future competitions, but they need to work on their defensive holes and ball movement. (It was clear, for every shoot taken, that there were players in better and more open positions, and when the ball was played to the open man, it was either too far in front or too behind the intended target.)

Armenia is close to being a good team in Europe and with more games played together, they should be fine, well jelled, and able to play with the world’s best.

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Antranig Dereyan

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antranig Dereyan graduated from Rowan University with a bachelor’s in journalism. He contributes frequently to the Armenian Weekly with sports pieces. He also freelances for other online sites and newspapers.

2 Comments

  1. “Servet Cretin found the ball on his left foot. With Armenian defenders all over the ball, Cretin got away for…” 

    :D

    It should be Servet Çetin…

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