Armenian National Team Records First Win of 2012

During the short international break in late February, most countries play one friendly match before players return to their club duties. Armenian head coach Vardan Minasyan took the opportunity to assemble a larger than average squad to play two matches back-to-back versus Serbia and Canada. The matches were held on Feb. 28 and Feb. 29, respectively, at the Tsirion Stadium in Limassol, Cyprus. In doing so, Minasyan gave himself a chance to introduce some young players into the international setup, while also continuing to develop his vision for the team with the senior players.

Julian de Guzman, left, of Canada fights for the ball with Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Armenia during their friendly in Cyprus on Feb. 29. (Petros Karadjias/Associated Press)

Armenia 0:2 Serbia

A strong second half performance from Armenia’s reserves was not enough to overcome a lackluster effort in the first half against a near full-strength Serbian outfit. First half goals from Zdravko Kuzmanović and Captain Branoslav Ivanović were enough to ensure a comfortable 2:0 victory for the Serbs.

Robert Arzumanyan captained a mostly reserve Armenian side that included just three players of significant international experience (20 caps or more). Karlen Mkrtchyan and Gevorg Ghazaryan were the other experienced campaigners that lined up alongside the younger players for the match.

Serbia began the brighter of the two sides, adjusting to the rainy conditions and controlling the tempo of play. Just after the 10-minute mark, Ivanović met an out-swinging corner for what was the first significant chance of the match. Timing his run perfectly, he sent a powerful header crashing against the crossbar.

Moments later, hesitation amongst the Armenian players on the right wing allowed Serbia to break quickly and take the lead. Grigor Meliksetyan in the Armenian goal got a strong left hand to the initial effort as he narrowed the angle of the shot. However, he only managed to redirect the ball into the path of the on-rushing Kuzmanović who side-footed the ball into an empty net from 12 yards.

The lead was doubled on the half hour mark. Kuzmanović struck a free kick from 20 yards that Meliksetyan managed to stop but failed to hold in the wet conditions. Branoslav Ivanović was first to react to the spilled ball and tapped home from close range.

Armenia increased their work rate after the break, pressing the Serbian players high up the pitch in an attempt to gain possession in more dangerous areas. Yet, as the game began to open up both sides were unlucky not to add to the scoring, each hitting the woodwork in the second half.

As the second half wore on, Gevorg Ghazaryan began to take charge of possession in the final third and was instrumental in creating Armenia’s best chance.

Collecting the ball on the left-hand side of the penalty area, he drew the attention of two defenders and the goalkeeper before squaring the ball to Valter Poghosyan. The 20-year-old, who plies his trade with Banants in the Armenian Premier League, looked to have a simple finish to mark his senior debut with a goal. A last ditch tackle, however, saw his shot blocked and turned wide for a corner kick.

Any chance of getting back into the contest went with that spurned opportunity. Goals, and in particular the timing of goals, tend to dictate how games are played. Had the deficit been reduced to a single goal with just under 15 minutes to play, Armenia may have pressed for an equalizer. Maintaining a two-goal cushion, Serbia could play out the remaining minutes comfortably to record the victory under caretaker coach Radovan Ćurčić.

The match against Serbia, a team ranked 25 in the world, was always going to be difficult. But sending a reserve side out against what proved to be Serbia’s senior players made getting a result in the tie a much greater task. Of the 17 Serbian players that were used on the night, on average they each possessed 3 times as much international experience—approximately 20 caps per player versus 7 caps for the Armenians. Such a statistic helps put this match and result into perspective.

The match versus Serbia served its purpose. Being called into the squad, Armenia’s young players were given the opportunity to train with the more established members of the squad and gain valuable playing experience against a top side such as Serbia. With one game in the books, Vardan Minasyan now turned his attention to the senior players and how they would fare against a Canada team ranked 71 in the world by FIFA.

Armenia: G. Meliksetyan, G. Daghbashyan, H. Hambardzumyan (60’ G. Poghosyan), R. Arzumanyan (c), V. Haroyan (76’ A. Voskanyan), E. Malakyan (68’ V. Poghosyan), G. Ghazaryan, K. Mkrtchyan, M. Voskanyan (46’ D. Manoyan), A. Sarkisov (46’ K. Hovhannisyan), A. Yuspashyan

Coach: V Minasyan

Serbia: D. Kahriman, A. Kolarov, N. Subotić (78’ P. Ninkov), S. Rajković (84’ D. Tošić), B. Ivanović (c), Z. Tošić (58’ M. Sulejmani), R. Petrović (69’ M. Jovanović), M. Ninković, Z. Kuzmanović, B. Janković (74’ D. Tadić), L Marković (69’ A.Ignjovski)

Coach: R. Ćurčić

Armenia 3:1 Canada

Armenia was caught cold by Canadian Captain Kevin McKenna, who notched his 11th international goal after venturing forward for a corner kick on 5 minutes. Armenia regained the ascendancy in the match soon after with a brace from Marcos Pizzelli and a debut goal from Aras Özbiliz on the stroke of full-time.

Marcos Pizzelli restored parity after 22 minutes, picking up the ball in a central location following a good run down the right by Sarkis Hovsepyan. Shooting from outside the box, Pizzelli’s shot beat Borjan in the Canadian goal low to his near post.

Pizzelli completed his brace after 66 minutes. An in-swinging corner from Özbiliz was punched to the edge of the box by Canada’s replacement keeper Kyriakos Stamatopoulos. Showing great technique, Artak Edigaryan sent the ball crashing off of the Canadian crossbar on the full volley. Pizzelli was first to react and succeeded in toe-poking the ball into the roof of the net.

Armenia was without regulars Mkrtchyan and Ghazaryan, who had played with the reserve side a day earlier in a 2:0 defeat to Serbia. But the much-anticipated introduction of Aras Özbiliz into the senior side did not disappoint. Continuing his rich vein of form, which has seen him score at Old Trafford in the Europa League and in the Eredivisie with his club Ajax, Özbiliz put in a stalwart performance and opened his international tally at the first attempt.

As the match entered injury time, Artur Sarkisov got behind his full back and was upended in the box, giving the referee no choice but to award a spot kick. Özbiliz stepped up confidently to dispatch his first international goal, and Armenia’s third that night. In a nice touch, Özbiliz turned away kissing the Armenian crest on his jersey, no doubt a thank you to the fans and well-wishers that have welcomed him to the team.

The 3-1 score line was no more than Armenia deserved. The team was unlucky not to add more through Yura Movsisyan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Mkhitaryan sent a header off of the crossbar on 70 minutes and Movsisyan was lively throughout his 72 minutes of action, leading the line well and getting into some great positions.

His best chance saw him outrun two defenders and latch onto a through ball from Marcos Pizzelli. Movsisyan did everything right, controlling well, rounding the advancing goalkeeper, and turning a powerful shot onto goal. But for a despairing block on the line by the Canadian defender he surely would have opened his account for the year.

Despite taking the lead, Canada offered little else in an attacking sense. The only other chance of note from the first half was a long-range shot from Atiba Hutchinson, which went high and right. The second half did not produce too many other highlights for the Canucks.

Overall this was a positive result for Armenia. The team’s finishing could have been better, and losing a goal from a set piece is always a disappointment. But the emergence of Turkish-Armenian Aras Özbiliz is certainly the highlight of this international break. He showed great ability recently at the club level and now showed that he can deliver at the international level. Minasyan has found another gem to join his already talented squad, and this bodes well for the upcoming World Cup campaign.

Armenia: R. Berezovsky, S. Hovsepyan (c), R. Aleksanyan, H. Mkoyan, L. Hayrapetyan (90+2’ K. Hovhannisyan), Artak Edigaryan, Artur Edigaryan (A. Yuspashyan), H. Mkhitaryan, A. Özbiliz, M. Pizzelli, Y. Movsisyan (72’ A. Sarkisov)

Coach: V Minasyan

Canada: M. Borjan (46’ K. Stamatopoulos), A. Straith (61’ N. Attakora), D. Edgar, K. McKenna (c), M. Klukowski, N. Ledgewood, J. de Guzman (79’ M. Haber), T. Ricketts, S. Jackson, J. Simpson (61’ I. Hume), A. Hutchinson

Coach: Stephen Hart


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M.J. Graham

Michael Graham is The Armenian Weekly's soccer correspondent. Born and raised in Limerick, Ireland, Graham graduated from the University of Limerick with a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering. Passionate about soccer, Graham plays in and manages local adult soccer leagues in Massachusetts and is a holder of a U.S. Adult Amateur coaching license. Follow him on Twitter (@mjlgraham).

7 Comments

  1. Congratulations to the Highlanders for their win against Canada and to Aras Ozbiliz for his great debut. I hope that this is a precedent for many victories to come!

  2. there was this guy Yagan, from belgium; there was some talk of him playing for armenia
    what happened with that ?

  3. Hirac Yagan plays for Ghanzasar yet he hasn’t started game in all of 2011.

    Graham forgot to mention that the match against Serbia would not count as a friendly requiring tally reporting for the FIFA rankings, rather a game that both countries had agreed upon and that’s primarily why Maestro Minasyan started his U21 squad.

  4. Thank you Mr. Graham for the coverage of these two games.

    Armenian players learning from Serbia, and maybe Canada learning from Armenia :)

  5. Although Minasyan selected a lot of youth players against the senior Serbia side, thus making it difficult to win, the match was in fact included in Armenia’s latest rankings. This can be seen on the FIFA.com rankings page.

    I will hopefully follow up with an article that explains the FIFA ranking calculations.

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