Saying the Armenian national soccer team had a bit of pressure on their shoulders on Oct. 7, heading into Yerevan’s Republic Stadium to play Macedonia, would be a massive understatement.
Armenia knew what it needed to do, knew that coming out of Republican Stadium with anything less than a win would be unacceptable and would completely deflate any hope the country had of qualifying for the European Cup, Europe’s elite national team soccer competition.
With victory in mind, Armenia took to the field in front of a sold-out crowd that showed its support by waving the tricolor high. The crowd never sat back down, or stopped cheering, after singing the national anthem because Armenia came right out and attacked Macedonia from all sides.
In the ninth minute, Armenia’s striker, Yura Movsisyan, with a Macedonia defender screening Martin Bogatinov, the Macedonian goalkeeper, blasted a shot from inside the 18-yard-box and smacked the right-side post.
He wasn’t done there, though. In the 28th minute, his cross ball gave Marcos Pineiro Pizzelli a right-footed tap-in goal from inside the six-yard-box, 1-0 to Armenia.
But to just mention the goal and not Movsisyan would be an insult. Before the ball could roll out of play, Movsisyan kept the play alive by running the ball down in the midfield. He then dribbled through three defenders and had a clear path to the goal. Once inside the 18-yard-box, he jumped out of the way of a sliding tackle and lunged his right foot at the ball, which he managed to make some contact with, allowing the ball to cross across the 6-yard-box via a slow roller, onto the right foot of an open and waiting Pizzelli for the goal.
Knowing that one goal wasn’t good enough, Armenia continued to battle away and in the 34th minute, Henrikh Mkhitaryan gave his team a two-goal cushion.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=929wInO_aLE&feature=share
Getting control of the ball from a Pizzelli pass, Mkhitaryan ran diagonal right-to-left across the box, about 25-yards out, and when he ran just past the center of the box, off to the left a bit, he let a rocket of bender go.
The ball never stopped bending. Bogatinov had no chance. Thanks to a little help from the left-sided post, the ball hit the inside top-left netting of the goal and gave the Armenian supporters another reason to stand, clap, and whistle for their team.
Being down two goals in the first half is frustrating for any team, but Macedonia’s captain, Velice Sumulikoski, took it upon himself to show Armenia that the game wasn’t over by slide tackling every Armenia player who got around him. His actions gained him a yellow card in the 40th minute.
Macedonia did have a few chances in the half, however. Macedonian midfielder, Ivan Trickovski, cracked a shot just over the bar in the 35th, and Armenia’s goalkeeper, Roman Berzovski had to come up big with a save of his own in the 42nd, when Macedonian striker Nikolce Noveski hit a shot from outside the 18-yard box.
At the end of the half: Armenia 2, Macedonia 0.
When Armenia’s players came out of the dressing room for the second half, it was like they had never left in the first place. Only two minutes played in the second half, Mkhitaryan took the ball and shot from the center of the 18-yard box; a yard to the right, and Armenia would have had its third goal of the game, but the ball skimmed left and behind the net for a goal-kick.
The Macedonians weren’t able to get into the game, and their day got much worse when in the 53rd minute, Sumulikoski received his second yellow card for yet another reckless challenge. As two yellow cards equal a straight red card, he was off the field for an early shower.
With a one-man advantage, the already rambunctious Armenian team roamed the field picking Macedonia apart. To their credit, the Macedonians continued to fight. Bogatinov did his best to deal with Armenia’s attacks and playing team defense, and the team shut down all of Armenia’s lanes to goal.
But Armenia was too much for the Macedonians to handle. Ghazaryan poked in Armenia’s third goal off a cross ball from Armenia’s man-of-the-match, Movsisyan. And Artur Sarkisov, who subbed into the game in the 75th minute, capped off the night with a fourth goal.
A header, off a corner kick, by Macedonia’s Vance Sikov gave Macedonia its only goal.
Once the final whistle blew, however, it was a scene of pure jubilation as the players hugged one another and clapped in front of the stands, showing their appreciation for their fans’ support.
Just like a Hollywood David versus Goliath sports film (perhaps one produced by Arthur M. Sarkissian), Armenia (David) will now have to go to Dublin to play the 29th ranked team in the world, the Republic of Ireland (Goliath), and beat them.
This task is easier said than done. To defeat Ireland, Armenia not only has to deal with world-class players on the field, but also with the country’s supporters behind them, which is a game in itself.
Either way, the Oct. 11 game in Dublin will be one to remember. Win or lose, Armenia can be proud of the job they have done thus far. But, if the 44th-ranked team in the world defeats the 29th…