Soccer: Armenia Suffers Damaging Loss to Czech Republic in Yerevan

The dust has settled at the Republican Stadium in Yerevan following Armenia’s heavy defeat to the Czech Republic. The 3:0 result has dealt a hammer blow to their World Cup qualifying campaign. A clean sheet and solid performance from Petr Čech in goal on his 100th international cap for the Czech Republic set the platform. A pair of second half goals from Matěj Vydra followed by Daniel Kolář’s stoppage time strike on the counter attack, wrapped up a much-needed win for the Czechs and left Armenia languishing at the wrong end of the table.

Although mathematically they still have a chance in Group B, with three defeats in a row, two of which were defeats at home, Armenia left itself with very little wiggle room. The players must now navigate the rest of their campaign flawlessly and look for help from other teams if they are to stand any chance of getting back into contention.

With a paltry three points to show from four games played, it seems unlikely that Armenia will turn their fortunes around.
With a paltry three points to show from four games played, it seems unlikely that Armenia will turn their fortunes around.

With a paltry three points to show from four games played, it seems unlikely that Armenia will turn its fortune around. However, with two games in hand on the second-place Bulgarians, and sitting seven points adrift of that playoff spot, three points against Malta at home in June is a necessity and  must also be followed up with a result in Denmark. That may, at the very least, make things interesting, particularly if the other teams continue to take points from each other, as has been the case thus far in the group.

That is a tough ask of Armenia, however, and one that only the most faithful of fans would predict happening. The current landscape of the group and future fixtures does not bode well for Armenia. For example, another team in the group that has had a similarly slow start is Denmark. Their situation is helped by still having to face Malta at home and away. These are fixtures Denmark would expect to pick up the maximum points from. So even if Bulgaria and the Czech Republic lose points on the run in, the chips are stacked against a revival for Armenia. This also assumes Italy runs away with the top spot.

Armenia’s form hasn’t been of the consistency needed to mount a challenge in the group. Up until the Czech Republic’s visit to Yerevan, the Czechs had also been struggling. Arriving in Yerevan they were coming off of a demoralizing 3:0 reverse to Denmark at home only a few days earlier. This match was a chance for either team to re-establish their ambitions in the group. With a win, Armenia’s defeats to Bulgaria and Italy could then be put into context, as those teams have proven themselves to be in great form and the favorites for qualification so far. With both teams’ campaigns hanging in the balance, it would be the Czechs and not Armenians who righted the ship.

Armenia entered the match making six changes from the team that faced Italy in the last qualifier. Three of the starters, Muradyan, Voskanyan, and Hovhannisyan, were 20 years of age, with little international experience. They performed well proving the old adage, “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.” But such flux in the starting 11, albeit forced upon Armenia through injury and suspension, doesn’t lend itself to the cohesion or consistency in performance that is required at this level.

In the opening half hour, buoyed by 15,000 fans, the Armenian players came out of the blocks fast, imposing themselves on the game, denying space and gaining the ascendancy in midfield. Petr Čech was the busier of the two keepers early on. The centurion first saved with his leg from Yura Movsisyan, following an exquisite quick break by Henrikh Mkhitaryan, before later beating a driven 18-yard shot to safety from Marcos Pizzelli. Marcos will be disappointed he couldn’t direct his shot to either side of the veteran keeper.

The Czechs threatened themselves with a header and a couple of efforts from distance. Roman Berezovsky was up to the test on each occasion proving his reflexes are still of the highest order. The best chance of the half was crafted by Yura Movsisyan. Latching onto a looped cross from Gevorg Ghazaryan, he quickly spun his man on the six-yard box before releasing a shot, only to see Čech block the effort from point blank range. As the half came to a close, Armenia’s early endeavor had been somewhat weathered by the Czechs and entering the dressing rooms the Czech Republic could regroup, happy that Armenia hadn’t found the breakthrough.

Early in the second half, an innocuous give-away by Edgar Manucharyan from a throw-in at the half way line caught Armenia off balance, and that turn-over saw them unable to recover before the ball was in their net. Working the ball down the right, an early cross from Plašil found Matěj Vydra with too much space in the box. The Udinese striker, who’s on loan in England at Championship side Watford, made no mistake with the header. Robert Arzumanyan will be disappointed he left his man with that much space six yards from the goal.

With the deadlock broken, the flow of the game changed. Armenia was unable to find the direct penetrating attacks it enjoyed in the first half. The introduction of Özbiliz minutes after conceding the opener, followed later by the addition of the speedy Sarkisov up front, signaled Minasyan’s intents. As a whole though, Armenia was less potent in the final third, resorting to wild long-distance efforts that rarely troubled Čech.

On the 70-minute mark, Artur Sarkisov looked to be upended in the box; as 15,000 people shouted penalty, the referee had no qualms in waving off the appeals adjudging no foul play from his terrific vantage point of the play. Replays proved to be inconclusive on the incident, but what could have been a turning point in the tie for Armenia proved to be the nearest they’d come to getting back into things on the night.

In the 81st minute, Arzumanyan seemed to labor towards a ball on the right side of the defense. His attempted clearance was charged down and the bouncing rebound caught debutant Taron Voskanyan flat footed. Losing the one on one battle, the isolated defender could only watch as Vydra nodded the ball forward and crushed his shot into the back of the net for his brace–an unfortunate blot of the copybook of the youngster Voskanyan, who had performed excellently up until that point.

In the dying seconds of the match, while pushing to get on the board themselves, Armenia was caught on the break when Daniel Kolář was set free by an incisive pass from Tomáš Rosický. Running clear, Kolář made no mistake with the finish, although Vydra will be disappointed with his teammate as he looked to be set up for the hatrick racing in support of Kolář.

Three goals somewhat flattered the visitors, who weathered the early Armenian pressure, nicked a goal after half time, and grew in confidence in the game from that point onwards. Armenia on the other hand was unlucky not to score through Movsisyan’s chance in the first half, but overall the Armenians’ excursions into the final third, even early on when they dominated possession, seemed hurried and sometimes wasteful.

On the defensive side of things, Armenia is lacking experience in some key areas but based on performances from Voskanyan and Muradyan, in particular, the talent is there for the problems to eventually be addressed. One area that consistently lets Armenia down, however, is its inability to defend crosses and deal with the high ball. The aerial route tends to be a source of many of the goals Armenia concedes, and rarely an avenue they score from themselves. This will always be of concern against tall powerful sides and one that can best be solved with taller, more powerful players. Perhaps another young defender in the squad, Artem Khatchaturov, who stands 6’3″ tall, can develop into that defensive figure Armenia needs as the months and years go by. Although the current situation is grave in Group B for Armenia, with two games in hand all that can be done is to “keep calm and carry on.”

Armenia Squad: R. Berezovsky (c), R. Arzumanyan, V. Aleksanyan, K. Hovhannisyan, T. Voskanyan, K. Muradyan (78’ D. Manoyan), H. Mkhitaryan, G. Ghazaryan (YC)(60’ A. Sarkisov), M. Pizzelli, Y. Movsisyan (YC), E. Manucharyan (50’ A. Özbiliz)

Coach: V. Minasyan

Czech Republic: P. Čech, M. Kadlec, T. Sivok (43’ M. Suchý), T. Gebre Selassie, D. Limberský, T. Rosický (c), T. Hübschman, J. Plašil, V. Darida (85’ P. Jiráček), D. Lafata (74’ D. Kolář), M. Vydra

Coach: Michal Bílek

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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).

3 Comments

  1. With guys like Mkhitaryan and Movsisyan, Armenia has the most competitive soccer team it has had in years. I really do think that it is on its way toward future success.

    • And Özbiliz.

      Trouble is, the rest of the team is… not as good. Like the author of this article said, they need to work on their defense.

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