For Armenia, just getting to this point was an accomplishment—two points away from the European Cup playoff on the final day of group play, on Oct. 11. They knew that a win in Dublin at the Aviva Stadium would put them through. It was a scenario not many Armenians could have envisioned when group play started on Sept. 3, 2010. In the end, however, Ireland came away with the victory, 2-1, to move on in the competition.
Heading into the match, the pressure was felt on both sides, but Armenia was ready. From the walk out onto the field, the team felt the energy of their traveling supporters—who had sold-out the away-section—cheering their team on, waving their flags, and flying a section-wide tricolor during the national anthem.
The Sky Sports announcers, who knew very little about Armenia, made four clear points about Ireland’s opponents: Armenia had come into the match as the highest goal-scoring team in Group B; Armenia had scored 11 goals in their last 3 matches; both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Gevorg Ghazaryan had scored in Armenia’s last three matches; and if Armenia won, Ireland would be eliminated.
The announcers then gave Armenia a backhanded compliment, saying, “Armenia has done well so far, but let’s face it, they are not Spain, Holland, or Germany. Ireland should win this match and go through, but a tie would also see Ireland go through over Armenia by one point.”
Going into the game, Armenia was confident since Ireland’s top goal-scorer, Robbie Keane was ruled out of the game due to an injury, leaving a huge void in Ireland’s attack.
But could Armenia take advantage?
The whistle blew and the noise in the stadium drowned out the Sky Sports announcers’ voices. To Armenia’s credit, they were able to hold their own and not let the noise break their concentration, coming out with the first chance of the match, in the 3rd minute.
Running with the ball at his feet down the center of the field, Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan blasted the ball just outside the 18-yard-box, but the ball traveled left and wide of the goal.
Unlike the match with Macedonia, Armenia’s goalkeeper, Roman Berzovski, had plenty to do in this match. Starting from the 12th minute, he deflected a cross ball for an Irish corner-kick. A minute later, he got in the way of a Irish striker Kevin Doyle’s bending shot from inside 18 yards.
Berezovski was again called into action in the 25th when Irish striker Simon Cox jumped for a ball in the box and impeded his movement. After grabbing the ball, Berezovski appeared to have injured his leg. Getting up from Cox’s challenge, he put the ball down in front of him and Cox. Seeing the ball at his feet, the opportunistic Cox kicked the ball into the empty net, and Ireland’s supporters went crazy. But wait. The referee indicated he blew his whistle before for the foul and Armenia’s trainer was allowed to come to the field to attend to Berezovski, with the goal being disallowed.
What happened a minute later would not only change the game, but dash Armenia’s Euro Cup hopes. It again involved Cox running to the bouncing ball on his way to Armenia’s goal. Noticing that Cox could score, Berezovski ran out to beat Cox’s kick and jumped up to stop the ball. Cox put his right foot under in an attempt to kick it over him. The ball hit Berezovski on what appeared to be his chest, but the referee immediately went into his back pocket and showed Armenia’s number one goalkeeper a straight red card for handling the ball outside of the box. This not only put Armenia at a disadvantage player-wise (10-11), but since the regular back-up keeper was ruled out of the lineup due to illness, 21-year-old Arsen Petrosyan, who had never played a senior national game, had to come in and hold Ireland off.
Recovering from the shock of the red card, Armenia took the play to Ireland. Every chance they had, the players ran at the Irish defense, but were never able to get any clean shots.
In the 43rd minute, Doyle tried a cheeky flick to connect with a cross ball from his midfielder, Damien Duff, which rolled across the six-yard box, but he completely missed it. Goal threat over, right? Wrong.
Under no pressure whatsoever, Armenia’s defender, Valeri Aleksanyan, not knowing where he was on the field relative to the goal, kicked the ball right into his own net, 1-0 to Ireland.
Aleksanyan dropped to the floor, curled up in a ball, and covered his face. One could feel his pain, but as a professional on the national level, he should have been more aware of his placement.
The end of the half came to an end with Armenia needing two goals, and Petrosyan being shown a yellow card for handling the ball outside the box. With Armenia’s crowd in worry, the only cheering came from the Irish supporters.
In the 53rd minute, Ireland almost broke the game wide-open with its second goal when midfielder Keith Andrews’ shot went just wide of the left-side post. Had the shot been on target, it would have gone in, since Petrosyan didn’t have the post covered.
A few minutes later, in the 59th minute, Ireland’s Aiden McGeady crossed the ball from the right side into Petrosyan’s 6-yard-box. With no Armenian defenders to help, Petrosyan found himself alone against three Irish players. He deflected the ball straight, away from the center forward, but unfortunately right into the chest of the waiting Dunnes who, with little effort, kicked the ball into the back of the net, 2-0.
“This game is over now. Ireland is through to the playoffs,” said one announcer.
However, two minutes later, in the 62nd minute, Mkhitaryan pulled one goal back from the center of the 18-yard-box off a pass from Movsisyan.
Bending the ball with too much strength for the Irish goalkeeper, Shay Given, to keep out, the ball curled just inside the left post and into the back of the net, 2-1. But Armenia didn’t celebrate. It still needed two more goals to win.
In the 81st minute, when Doyle was sent off for his second yellow, it appeared that Armenia could pull off a miracle.
In the end, though, Ireland was too much, and Armenia ran out of energy.
On the positive side, this game showed Armenia and the rest of the world what kind of team they are and will be in the future. With young talent up-front and a solid defense—even with the departure of 38-year-old captain Sargis Hovsepyan—the best is yet to come. Other teams in their World Cup qualification group—Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic, and Bulgaria—should take note: Armenia is no longer a guaranteed win. They could even shock the world.