As Armenians around the world try to pick up the pieces from their devastating losses in the Artsakh War, the Armenian national soccer team is offering a glimmer of hope with its performances during the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
For the first time in its history, the “Havakakan” won its first three World Cup qualifying matches, defeating Group J opponents Liechtenstein (1-0), Iceland (2-0) and Romania (3-2) in a span of seven days. Armenia’s flawless record puts them on top of Group J after heavy favorite Germany shockingly lost to North Macedonia last Wednesday.
View this post on Instagram
Armenia has never qualified for a World Cup, but the team has been building momentum ever since head coach Joaquin Caparros took over the squad in March of 2020. The “Havakakan” is undefeated in their last eight games; they’re on a five-game winning streak.
“The mindset has changed because we think and prepare differently before each game,” said midfielder Tigran Barseghyan following Armenia’s win over Romania last Wednesday. “With the new coach we have, we have a new mindset and we are starting to believe in our strengths.”
Armenia’s road to the World Cup began in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, when it completely dominated Liechtenstein in its first match on March 25. They outshot the tiny European nation 26-0 and won 1-0 thanks to an own goal.
Then, on March 28, Armenia defeated Iceland for the first time in its history, aided by two second-half goals from Tigran Barseghyan and Khoren Bayramian in Yerevan.
“To tell you the truth, we believed we were going to win,” Barseghyan proclaimed.
That belief carried over into Matchday 3, when Armenia pulled off a miracle comeback victory against Romania. Down 2-1 in the 87th minute, Varazdat Haroyan cashed in on a strike to even up the score. Two minutes later, Barseghyan capitalized on a penalty kick opportunity to give the Armenians the 3-2 win and send Yerevan into a frenzy.
“I’m very happy we won three consecutive games,” Haroyan told reporters after the game. “As far as I know, this is history. I want to gift these victories to the Armenian people and during these difficult times hopefully we were able to put a smile on their faces,” Haroyan added.
Most impressively, the Armenians won all three games without star striker Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who missed all three games due to injury. Nearly everyone on the squad is contributing in his own way, including 20-year-old Eduard Spertsyan, who also scored in the Romania match playing in his first-ever international match.
“I can’t describe it,” Spertsyan said. “I don’t know what to say. You can only dream of this… I feel so proud. I used all my strength so my team would win. We all fought until the end and that’s the most important thing. We didn’t give up, and we scored goals and won.
View this post on Instagram
There are still seven matches to be played in the qualification tournament. The next games are scheduled for September against North Macedonia and 2014 World Cup champion Germany. Armenia must finish first in its group of six countries to automatically qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. A second-place seeding will advance them to a playoff, where they will have another opportunity to make it into the prestigious tournament.
But for now, Armenians around the world can bask in the success of its national team and take pride in the resilience of the “Havakakan”—a talented group of soccer players who are doing their part to help Armenians heal.