Armenia’s shy dreams of football respectability gained legitimacy Friday evening in Yerevan’s Republican Stadium with a 4-1 victory over FYR Macedonia in UEFA Euro 2012 Group B qualifying.
Independent Armenia has never reached this level of soccer success and while the unexpected turnaround is a tribute to coach Vardan Minasyan, it is also a cautiously captivating highlight in the otherwise dim Armenian team sports world.
Hopes began to find foundation in Minute 28 Friday, when Yura Movsisyan dribbled near the home-goal sideline, teetering on an out of bounds turnover, but instead nimbly threaded through four defenders and shot past a fifth Macedonian to find the sweet Brazilian-Italian boot of Marcos Pizzelli who right-footed orb into nylon.
Six minutes later midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan drilled a bullet ball from the dome of the square into the left back of the net far from the protection of Macedonian keeper Martin Bogatinov. The goal was the 22-year-old Mkhitaryan’s fifth of the UEFA campaign’s nine games and Team Hayastan’s 19th, to lead all Group B teams in net profits.
The Armenians proved stingy hosts straight away into the second period dominating ball possession – a task that proved easier once the visitors lost captain Velice Sumulikoski via his second yellow card of the night at minute 53. At Minute 69, Ghazaryan punched a flyer from his left foot to the left corner of the net to virtually seal the outcome.
A header by Macedonia’s Vance Sikov off a corner kick at Minute 86 ruined veteran goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky’s shutout in an otherwise rare perfect night on the Armenian pitch.
The fun-filled Friday football for 15,000 in the stadium and in streets full watching via big-screen in Yerevan’s “French Square” culminated when substitute Artur Sarkisov (who entered at Minute 75) danced past Bogatinov for a peck of a shot for the final score in the second minute of added time.
The victory secures Armenia’s hopes of making football history should it qualify for UEFA European Football Championship to be held in Poland and Ukraine June 8-July 1 next year. The win also sets up a dramatic end-of tournament battle as Armenia face the Republic of Ireland in Dublin October 11.
A win against the Irish (against whom Armenia lost 0-1 at home and who were a point ahead of Armenia in standings entering Friday’s match) would give Armenia a playoff chance for qualification.