With the friendly defeat in an exhibition match to Lithuania behind them, Armenia took to the field on Fri., Sept. 2 in the Estadio Comunal de Aixovall against the Andorra national team, continuing their Group B qualifying campaign for the 2012 European Cup.
Both teams looked tired at the start of the match; while Andorra kicked the ball around, like they were training, the Armenian forwards ran in circles trying to retrieve it. It wasn’t until the 23rd minute that the game picked up and the first chance on goal came via the right foot of Armenia’s Gevorg Ghazaryan. He blasted the ball from behind the 12-yard box (the bigger of the two boxes in front of the goal net), but the ball skidded just outside the left post.
This near-goal sparked the Armenians and their game picked up drastically. From the 23rd minute on, they fought for each ball, won free-kicks inside the Andorrans’ half, and came close to scoring on more than one occasion.
In the 32nd minute, Armenian forward Artur Sarkisov found himself on the far right side, inside his attacking 12-yard box. After a quick peek at his surroundings, Sarkisov put his head back down and struck the ball with finesse, but Andorran goalkeeper Josep Gomes dove quickly to the bottom left corner and saved the ball from rolling to goal.
The Armenians weren’t discouraged, however. Three minutes later a goal came in the form of a beautifully hit ball from Marcos Pineiro Pizzelli, who had the ball at his feet, just outside the 12-yard box, right off center to the left of the goal.
Using his left foot, Pizzelli side-kicked the ball with tremendous pace and downwards bend, with Gomes screened by his defender who was in front of him, blocking his sight. The ball passed a bewildered Gomes, hitting the top right corner of the net, 1-0 to Armenia.
Armenia’s bench stood up and cheered, as did the traveling Armenian supports. But apart from giving them a lead, the goal created a negative of lost focus.
Watching the action on the field, a spectator would think the game was in the 89th minute and about to end, but Andorra never gave up and almost made Armenia pay for their lackluster effort.
In the 41st minute, Andorra’s Fernando Silva jumped over and through Armenia’s center defenseman, putting himself in perfect position inside the 6-yard box, ready to head the cross-ball. Luckily for Armenia, Silva mistimed his head kick and the ball bounced once and out, behind the right side of the goal.
One minute later, there was a bit of drama: Running into Andorra’s 12-yard box again, Sarkisov went past one defender, who went down to the ground swinging his feet trying to touch the ball, leaving him alone in the box, with only the goalie to beat. All of a sudden, Sarkisov, with no or minimal contact by the flaying, grounded defender, went down to the ground, like he’d been shot. Jumping up quickly, yelling and signaling that he wanted the referee to award a penalty or red card to the Andorran defender, he waited for the referee’s decision with arms resting on his hips.
The referee didn’t take long. He went into his left pocket and took out a card. Instead of showing it to the Andorran, however, for a trip in the box and a resulting penalty, he turned to his left and flashed the card to Sarkisov.
Sarkisov walked away, head down in shame, without argument. The replay then clearly indicated he had flopped to ground without any contact.
The flop was the last real action of the first half and both teams walked to their locker rooms to prepare for the second. Usually a half-time break kills any momentum gained from the first half, but that wasn’t the case for the Armenians.
Picking up right where they had left off, they beat Andorra to every ball, tackled the Andorran forwards away from the goal, and bullied them around, all over the field. Armenia’s apparent strength made the Andorrans’ playing more desperate. In the 47th minute, a direct free-kick from the center of the field, about 3-yards outside the 12-yard box, by Armenia’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan managed to graze the top of the netting. Seven minutes later, Mkhitaryan was back for another try; this time, the shot was on target, heading for the bottom right corner, and if it weren’t for a stretch dive from Gomes, he would have scored.
Fast-forward the game to the 70th minute and Pizzelli, dribbling through and around the Andorran defenders, put on a brief, one-man show, right in front of the traveling Armenian supports, who were sitting on the right side of Armenia’s attacking half. He found Ghazaryan open on his near side, passed the ball off to him and Ghazaryan, with the ball on his right foot, standing directly at the centerline of the 12-yard box, cracked the ball. The pace was brilliant, the placement was good, but the ball swerved at the last second and smacked the crossbar. Ghazaryan, with hands up to his face, was in shock. Five minutes later, though, he would get another try.
Armenia, gaining access to Andorra’s half once more, with one-touch passing from the back-line to the midfield and up the forwards, left Andorra scrambling to get the ball, but came up short each time they lunged forward. This caused a gap in between Andorra’s back-line, giving Armenia a two-man advantage right in front of Gomes.
Sarkisov dribbled the ball, untouched, into the 6-yard box to the left of the keeper. Briefly looking up, he saw an Andorran defender charging at him from his left side, and two of his teammates nearby waiting for a pass or a rebound chance off his shot.
With Gomes pivoting to keep pace, Sarkisov continued to dribble the ball, diagonally across the 6-yard box, trying to find an opening. As Sarkisov dribbled, Andorra got their back-line in order and closed up all the angles. Sarkisov continued to dribble sideways trying to find a way to the goal. He ran into the right side of a statuesque Ghazaryan, causing Sarkisov to lose control. But the ball just rolled, coming to a rest on Ghazaryan’s left foot.
With the Andorrans following Sarkisov, and the goalkeeper still pivoting to his right, thinking Sarkisov had the ball, Ghazaryan took one step to his right and kicked the ball slowly, but firmly, into the back of the gapping net, 2-0.
Mkhitaryan put the final nail in Andorra’s coffin by added another goal, in stoppage time, converting a penalty kick given to him thanks to a red card foul, just inside the 12-yard box, committed by Andorra’s Ildefons Lima.
The result gave Armenia the full three points. With the Republic of Ireland tying Slovakia, they now sit three points behind both teams, and have to play each team once more. Russia, who beat Macedonia easily and sits on top of the group with 16 points, will likely finish in first place. If they can beat Ireland and Slovakia, and Russia lends a helping hand, Armenia can finish second and qualify for the tournament, which will be held next year in Poland
The next match for Armenia is Tues., Sept. 6, against Slovakia.