The Armenian national team is set to face Greece on May 31at the neutral venue of Kufstein in Austria as part of their next series of international friendly matches. This match will be the second of two for Greece, which is also scheduled to play Slovenia at the same venue a week earlier. Armenia’s second opponent of the international break will be Kazakhstan, a match that will be played the following Tues., June 5 in Yerevan.
The month of May can be an exciting time on the international calendar, especially when major tournaments roll around. The media work themselves into a frenzy over each team’s 23-man squad for the upcoming finals—Euro 2012 in this case. News of who has made the cut and who has missed out adorns the front pages of newspapers.
Currently holding a FIFA world ranking of 14, Greece is one of the lucky 16 teams that has qualified and is preparing for the Euro 2012 finals tournament. Armenia just missed out on the finals, but there is still work to be done. Greece will present Armenia with its most significant challenge in recent months. With World Cup 2014 qualifying just around the corner, this is more than just a warm-up match to help Greece with its tournament preparations. It is a very important test for Armenia, which will be looking to build momentum and confidence ahead of its World Cup qualifying campaign, set to begin in September of this year.
The last few years have been some of the most successful in Greece’s national team history. In 2001, German coach Otto Rehhegal took over a team that rarely qualified for finals tournaments and on the occasions that it did, the performances were poor. During the World Cup finals in 1994, they lost all three of their group games while failing to score a single goal.
Under the new coaching regime, the team’s fortunes would soon turn around. Rehhegal’s first match in charge was a World Cup 2002 qualifier versus England. Greece had long since been out of contention for a qualification berth, but it was a match from which England needed a point—a point that they secured with a now-famous free kick from David Beckham in injury time.
That equalizer overshadowed what was a terrific performance from a Greek team that hadn’t much to play for and was coming off of a heavy 5-1 defeat to Finland. Although that match versus England was the end of one campaign, it was the first building block for Rehhegal’s Greece team to not only qualify for their next tournament but to go on and shock the footballing world by winning Euro 2004 as 100/1 outsiders.
Rehhegal is a master tactician and defensive mastermind. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his own players, he instilled an adaptability into the team that would see it adjust formations from game to game based on its opponents’ strengths. Proving that the success of Euro 2004 was no fluke, he succeeded in guiding the team to the Euro 2008 and also the World Cup 2010 finals before leaving the post voluntarily.
Rehhegal left some big boots to fill. His successor was Fernando Santos from Portugal. Santos took the baton and ran with it, continuing the great work and success. Greece finished its Euro 2012 qualifying campaign undefeated, maintaining a terrific defensive record and finished top of their group. That excellent campaign secured its automatic berth to Euro 2012.
Taking a closer look at Greece’s results in Group F, the fine lines between success and failure can be observed. Its group rivals were Croatia, Israel, Latvia, Georgia, and Malta. Although it went undefeated, the team only secured three points away from home against group minnows Malta in injury time at the end of the match. On two occasions Greece had to come from behind to beat a less than stellar Georgia team—the second of which was on the final day of qualifying; and with that late-winning goal they ensured automatic qualification for themselves and the playoff route to the second-placed Croatia team.
Looking at Armenia’s recent Euro 2012 campaign in Group B, it was a tale of similarly tight matches and results. Their group rivals were Russia, Ireland, Slovakia, Macedonia, and Andorra. A deserved point was lost in the opening match versus Ireland late in the match. And in the dying moments of their second match versus Macedonia, they conceded an injury time penalty that leveled proceedings, and with that, another two points slipped away.
If one or both of those results were different, Armenia would have entered the Aviva stadium in Dublin on the final day of qualifying protecting a playoff berth instead of needing to pry it from the grasp from the Irish. Such are the margins between success and failure in the world of international soccer.
Perhaps it is wrong to look back and discuss “what if”s? Perhaps it is unfair to draw a comparison between Greece and Armenia at all. Greece has had a FIFA affiliated football association since 1927, while Armenia established theirs in 1992. According to current European league coefficients, Greece’s soccer league is ranked 10; Armenia’s league is ranked 50 (of 53 national leagues in the ranking table). These rankings are based on each country’s club team’s results in European competitions such as the Champions League and Europa League. Differences in the size of each country’s respective populations are also factors to consider. However, aspiring to the same level of success that Greece has achieved in recent years is not so wrong. It can be attainable for Armenia.
Armenia needs to build on its recent successes and capitalize on the terrific position it finds itself in, with young talented players and coaches. A good performance against a solid opponent like Greece can serve as a springboard for the team into their World Cup campaign.
It must also be noted that Greece and Armenia differ in their preferred styles of play. Greece tends to be more defensive while Armenia has many talented offensive players. It makes for an intriguing contest in Austria at the end of the month, where two teams with different agendas and fundamentally opposing styles will collide.
Expected Armenia Squad: Berezovsky, Kasparov, Hovsepyan, Arzumanyan, Hayrapetyan, Mkoyan, Aleksanyan, Artak Edigaryan, Haroyan, Mkrtchyan, Artur Edigaryan, Mkhitaryan, Ghazaryan, Manoyan, Badoyan, Yuspashyan, Hovhannisyan, Movsisyan, Pizzelli, Sarkisov (Coach V. Minasyan)
Expected Greece Squad: Chalkias, Sifakis, Tzorvas, Papadopoulos, Papastathopoulos, Torosidis, Holebas, Malezas, Maniatis, Tzavellas, Papadopoulos, Fetfatzidis, Makos, Katsouranis, Fotakis, Fortounis, Karagounis, Tziolis, Ninis, Kone, Samaras, Salpigidis, Mitroglou, Liberopoulos, Gekas (Coach F. Santos)