Soccer: Armenia 0:1 Greece

Little more than 600 spectators turned out at a damp and rainy Kufstein Arena in Austria to see Armenia lose to Greece by a solitary first half goal from Kyriakos Papadopoulos. The victory ended a winless run of four international friendlies for the Greeks, who now enter the Euro 2012 championships on the front foot. On the other hand, Armenia is left to analyze a match that was full of incident and produced plenty of food for thought in advance of World Cup qualifying.

A scene from the match (Photolure)

Greece completely dominated the opening half by maintaining the ascendancy in midfield and stifling the Armenian counter attack. On numerous occasions the Greeks threatened the Armenian goal with chances crafted from set pieces and powerful running down the flanks.

While the second half showed a marked improvement from Armenia, the team was lucky not to fall further behind. Roman Berezovsky in the Armenian goal showed all his experience in saving two penalty kicks and foiling another quilt edged opportunity with a terrific foot save from point blank range.

The Greeks established their intentions very early in the game. Within the first five minutes a number of dangerous balls were delivered into the Armenian penalty area from the right wing and a penalty shout was also waved away when a bouncing ball struck the arm of Robert Arzumanyan.

Armenia’s only noteworthy opening of the first half came after seven minutes. Yura Movsisyan controlled the ball in the box and shaped to shoot with his right foot. A terrific block from Kyriakos Papadopoulos averted the danger.

Just before the 10-minute mark, Armenia was lucky not to concede the opener. The experienced midfielder Georgios Karagounis whipped in a dangerous free kick from the left wing. Berezovsky came out to punch but was beaten to the ball by Dimitrios Salpigidis. His downward header bounced inside the six but rose just over the top left corner of the net.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 23rd minute when Karagounis curled another free kick to the back post. Sargis Hovsepyan was caught out of position and under the flight of the ball leaving his man completely unmarked. Kyriakos Papadopoulos made no mistake with the space afforded him and sent a powerful downward header to the far right corner of the net.

The remainder of the first half produced more of the same. Attacks down the right wing continually exposed Levon Hayrapetyan for pace and the crosses continued to rain into the Armenian penalty area.

Just after the half hour mark, Berezovsky was called upon to make an excellent fingertip save from Karagounis. The Panathanaikos man was a standout performer for Greece in the opening half and his effort on this occasion was turned wide of the right hand post from an angled 20-yard shot.

Armenia was lucky to enter the break just a single goal behind, but the withdrawal of Karagounis after 45 minutes may also have contributed to a change in fortunes for Armenia for the second half. The introduction of Glasgow Celtic front man Georgios Samaras at the half would also pose a stern test down the left wing for Sargis Hovsepyan as Greece would continue to probe for openings out wide.

Armenia certainly increased the tempo of their play in the second half and the trade mark counter attack at pace was again on display, orchestrated by Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Two minutes after the restart Gevorg Ghazaryan’s crisp shot could only be parried. In the follow up, Movsisyan and Mkrtchyan only succeeded in getting in each other’s way and the chance was wasted.

Mkhitaryan’s pace on the counter attack saw him get behind the Greece defense and through on goal, but his shot on the half volley from outside the box was dragged wide. Later he would find himself arriving late to the edge of the box to steer a Ghazaryan cut back just wide of the left hand post.

The chances were beginning to be created on a consistent basis by Armenia as the second half wore on. Marcos Pizzelli and Yura Movsisyan, both of whom had sub-par performances by their high standards, also spurned opportunities by either snatching at their shots or having their first touch let them down at the crucial moment.

On the 70-minute mark, Georgios Samaras won a penalty for Greece. Samaras cut inside Aleksanyan on the left wing and advanced into the area. Running back to assist, Sargis Hovsepyan bowled Samaras over with a clumsy challenge giving referee Alexander Harkam no choice but to point to the spot. Roman Berezovsky came to his captain’s rescue, however, saving and holding onto Samaras’ penalty kick low to his left hand side.

Six minutes later Berezovsky was yet again the foil on a tremendous chance for Greece to double the lead. A simple long ball over the top of the defense found two Greek forwards bearing down on goal. A low shot from point blank range was kick saved brilliantly by the experienced Armenian net minder who was left dumb founded at the ease of which the chance was created.

The game was becoming stretched at this stage. Henrikh Mkhitaryan yet again proved his class with a barreling run and shot from the half way line. A number of chances fell to the Shakhtar Donetsk maestro on the night, but his shooting boots were sadly left at home.

In the 85th minute the Greeks were awarded another penalty kick. Olympiakos winger Ioannis Fetfatzidis skipped past Badoyan and Hayrapetyan with ease on the right wing. Artur Edigaryan and Hrayr Mkoyan came together to stem the attack but combined to upend the skillful youngster in the box.

The decision drew the wrath of Coach Minasyan who was promptly sent to the stands for his overzealous protests. Replays suggest that there was minimal contact in the box. When Fetfatzidis beat the first two defenders, the defense was unbalanced and struggled to recover from there.

Roman Berezovsky capped off a man of the match performance with his second penalty save of the night. Diving to his right he saved from Katsouranis and the clearance was completed by his defense.

With all the drama of the second half, Armenia was still only one behind. In the dying seconds of injury time a ball fell for Movsisyan in the box, but a loose first touch summed up his and Armenia’s night.

Greece’s performance was typical of their style. Defensively solid, excellent on set pieces, and dangerous down the flanks. This exposed Armenia’s susceptibility to the high ball into the penalty area and showed the team’s lack of genuine pace at the full back position. Both penalty kicks were the direct result of full backs getting beaten far too easily.

Armenia’s high-powered offense made an appearance in the second half, but in order to beat the highly ranked teams, the finishing needs to be clinical. A number of decent opportunities were created in the second half with willing runners getting into great positions; putting one or two of those chances away will always be the difference between good teams and great teams.

 

Armenia: R. Berezovsky, S. Hovsepyan (c), R. Arzumanyan (76’ H. Mkoyan), L. Hayrapetyan, V. Aleksanyan, K. Mkrtchyan, H. Mkhitaryan, G. Ghazaryan (87’ A. Sarsikov), D. Manoyan (58’ Z. Badoyan), Y. Movsisyan, M. Pizzelli (72’ Artur Edigaryan)

Coach: V. Minasyan

 

Greece: M. Sifakis, K. Papadopoulos, A. Papadopoulos, S. Papastathopoulos (61’ G. Makos), G. Maniatis, G. Karagounis (c) (45’ G. Fotakis), D. Salpigidis (84’ K. Mitroglou), T. Gekas (61’ I. Fetfatzidis), K. Katsouranis, K. Fortounis (45’ G. Samaras), J. Holebas (59’ G. Tzavelas)

Coach: F. Santos

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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).

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