Soccer: Armenia Plays Two Crunch World Cup Qualifiers


Special to the Armenian Weekly

The first international break of the season is always an interesting time in soccer/football. Domestic campaigns already have a match or two in the books, depending on the country and league. The English Premier League (EPL) is usually ahead of the curve with three matches played. With this limited sample set, club teams, managers, and board rooms gauge what trajectory their team is on. If teams find themselves behind the pace, whether their standing in the league table or their own target points-total, the transfer window can offer a quick-fix or, as the current market dictates, an overinflated panic-buy in an attempt to encourage a change of fortunes.

Team Armenia training on Aug. 29 ahead of the qualifiers (Photo: FFA)

This transfer window closes at midnight GMT on Aug. 31. The deadline can manifest itself as an unsettling time for managers on the hot seat, but also for the players. Those players in the shop window tend to be the elite and, as such, tend to be on international duty during this time. Clubs released players to travel to their respective international team setups earlier this week. It is likely that a significant number of players will move club, and a grotesque amount of money will change hands. Agents will undoubtedly get their slice of the pie as they survey the football markets looking to make their next telling and lucrative move. These powerful brokers serve their talented clients in many ways, as a business partner and advocate and, in some cases, as the player’s unofficial personal psychologist.

It is not outside the realm of possibility, based on the time zones spanned in this global game, that players will take the field for their nations as members of one club, and end the match as members of another. Everything changes for a player who will have a new place to call home and new teammates to get accustomed to. Such a scenario could happen to Alexis Sanchez, who is currently a member of Arsenal football club in the EPL, but is being courted heavily by Manchester City. His native Chile takes the field in South America around 30 minutes before the deadline expires in England. We know from past transfer windows that deals take place right down to the wire, with paperwork being filed at the last minute. Such brinkmanship, a trait we so often see in American politics, is also no stranger to the football world.

Besides the lavish spending that is sure to take place this week, there is the small matter of World Cup qualifying this weekend. Armenia travels to the national stadium in Bucharest on Sept. 1 with hopes of reviving its campaign against Romania. At the very least, the team will strive to put in a better showing than the 5-0 drubbing it suffered in the reverse fixture in 2016. Much has changed since that time, most notably the management team, which helped secure a couple of positive results along the way. Armenia currently sits on six points in Group E, tied with its next opponents. Nothing short of a win will keep its chances of qualification alive. Comments from the Romanian camp this week have struck a confident note, with players declaring the home team’s dominance over Armenia, tempered with a cursory footnote of respect for Armenia’s marquee players. Armenia will need to shore up defense if it is to have any chance of competing for the points.

During the last fixture against Montenegro, Armenia ran into the buzz-saw that was Stefan Jovetić, as the talismanic striker completed an exquisite hat-trick against Petrosyan’s men. For all the talent Jovetić displayed in that match, in particular his audacious bicycle kick to bag his third, he did profit from very poor defending. The Armenian defense looked slow and seemed lacking the mental sharpness required at the highest level to sniff out danger and keep the best players in check.

The squad that was announced for Armenia is without notable players such as Gevorg Ghazaryan, Hrayr Mkoyan, and Edgar Manucharyan. However, some positives entering these fixtures include Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is in a rich vein of form recently, racking up multiple assists to start his EPL campaign with Manchester United. Similarly, Macedonian side Vardar has recently made the group stage of the Europa league through the qualifying route, a first in that club’s history. Terrific contributions from Tigran Barseghyan and Hovhannes Hambardzumyan in that success was plain to see.

A good performance and more importantly a positive result against Romania must be parlayed into more of the same on Sep 4 when Armenia matches up with familiar foe Denmark at the Republican Stadium in Yerevan. The situation calls for nothing less than the maximum return of points this weekend. When Artur Petrosyan took the reins last year, his introduction produced a spark in the team that resulted in a quick six points’ being put on the board. Six more points from these two upcoming games will be the shot of adrenaline Armenia’s campaign desperately needs. Anything less than that and it’s well and truly over for this campaign.

The Armenian squad: (GKs) Arsen Beglaryan, Grigor Meliksetyan, Gor Manukyan, (Defenders) Levon Airapetian, Kamo Hovhannisyan, Varazdat Haroyan, Taron Voskanyan, Gaël Andonian, Hovhannes Hambardzumyan, Gagik Daghbashyan, Armen Manucharyan, (Midfielders) Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcos Pizzelli, Aras Özbiliz, David Manoyan, Artak Yedigaryan, Edgar Malakyan, Gor Malakyan, Artak Grigoryan, Tigran Barseghyan, Armen Ambartsumyan, (Forwards) Artur Sarkisov, Ruslan Koryan, Sargis Adamyan.

M.J. Graham

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).

1 Comment

  1. An extremely disappointing performance and result. Many of the players lacked heart and desire. In addition, to your point, mental sharpness was and has always been an achilles heel for us, especially for the defenders. Taron Voskanyan, who has played with an experienced Alashkert FC side who has won the Armenian PL this past season started over Gael Andonian (I won’t even mention his pathetic 2 yellow cards). A goalkeeper, who did well with the penalty save but was not very commanding in his box and nervous in many times started over the more experienced Arsen Beglaryan. Gor Malakyan starts over the more experienced Artak Edigaryan. So many question marks over the manager’s decisions. At times, I felt like many of these players are a bunch of amateurs. Qualifying hopes is literally over (not sure mathematically).

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