The Build Up to the Game
Fresh off a last-minute win against the Czech Republic, Armenia continue their quest to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, taking on Denmark in the capital, Yerevan. Only Denmark, Bulgaria and Italy stand in Armenia's way for a second place finish in Group B, so three points is a must today, to put Armenia at 12 points.
They will also be hoping results go against Bulgaria, who face Malta. While the full three points may be all but assured for Bulgaria, an upset against Bulgaria would put Armenia in a great position heading into the most crucial match of the group against Bulgaria.
Armenian goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky is not available for this match, after he was taken off with an injury in the last game. Gevorg Kasparov will replace him between the posts. Another notable change in the starting XI is the inclusion of both Marcos Pizzelli and Aras Ozbiliz, replacing Yura Movsisyan, who struggled against the Czech Republic. Captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan starts once more for Armenia, with pressure on his shoulders to score his record-breaking goal at last.
The last time these two sides met, Armenia went home with a 4-0 victory, something that Denmark manager Morten Olsen likened to the "Denmark 9/11." He later apologized for this statement.
So, with a full three points on their mind, Armenia take on Denmark with one eye set towards Brazil, and a hope that results will finally go their way and see them to a spot on a grand stage.
The First Half
Armenia started off the first half well, defending in numbers and controlling the ball in midfield. In the second minute of play, Varazdat Haroyan picked up the first yellow card of the game. Denmark, in their traditional style, reacted to Armenia's offensive pressure with a cool, calm demeanour. The first 15 minutes was a relatively even affair, with Armenia controlling a bit more of the possession. However, neither side could open their scoring accounts early.
In the 23rd minute, Armenian goalkeeper Kasparov was forced to make two big saves, but the number 12 came up big and kept Armenia's goal safe. Three minutes later, Artur Sarkisov was subbed in for Karlen Mkrtchyan, adding another element of attack to Armenia's midfield. On the half hour mark, Mkhitaryan caught sight of goal from well outside the box and took a shot, but it went wide.
Armenia won a corner in the 32nd minute, which they drew short to find Artur Yedigyan in midfield. His shot went high, and a few seconds later, he picked up a yellow card for a rough tackle in midfield. Each Denmark attack was met with a resilient Armenian defender clearing the ball from the box, making it difficult for the Danes to connect up top.
Armenia won a foul outside the box in the 38th minute, and Denmark's Peter Ankersen was awarded a yellow card for the challenge. Ozbiliz stepped up and curled the ball in, and met with the head of a Danish defender, who cleared it for a corner. Mkhitaryan picked it up outside the box, burst forward, and won another corner in the process. Ozbiliz passed the ball in close, got the return pass and took a shot on goal, but the shot didn't test the keeper.
With five minutes to go in the first half, the Danes continued to push forward with intent. At the 45 minute mark, Niki Zimling came off for Casper Sloth. That would be the final bit of action for the half, and the two sides head into the dressing rooms locked at 0-0.
The Second Half
Armenia kicked off the second half with a change, Sarkisov coming off for Sargis Adamyan. Denmark earned a free kick right outside the box in the 48th minute, which Christian Eriksen stood over, but he smacked his shot against the wall and out for a corner. Armenia defended the corner well. Ghazaryan and Ozbiliz connected up top well, and produced a strong chance in front of goal, but the final touch was lacking.
On the hour mark, Mkhitaryan was pulled down in midfield by William Kvist, who was shown yellow for the challenge. Armenia pushed forward with intent, Ozbiliz performing a neat trick which won Armenia a corner. He stood over the corner spot, whipped the ball in, and found an Armenian head. The headed effort smacked the bottom of the crossbar but was deflected out!
In the 66th minute, Viktor Fischer came in for Martin Braithwaite, Denmark's second change of the match. Armenia made their final change of the game in the 70th minute, David Manoyan coming in for Marcos Pizzelli. Ozbiliz muscled his way past a handful of Danish defenders minutes later, cracking a shot at goal, which was saved easily.
In the 72nd minute, Armenia faced disaster, when Haroyan slid in for a rough tackle in the box, giving Denmark a penalty and getting his second yellow. Now down a man and facing a penalty, Armenian goalkeeper Kasparov couldn't prevent Denmark's captain from slotting home, Daniel Agger giving Denmark a 1-0 lead.Now down to 10 men, Armenia pushed forward looking for an equalizing goal with 15 minutes to go in the match. Armenia won a foul in midfield, but Ozbiliz
completely missed his mark, kicking the ball out for a goal kick. With only eight minutes to go, Denmark made their final change of the night, Niki Bille coming off for Simon Makienok.
Armenia grew more and more desperate for possession as the seconds ticked down, Denmark maintaining control of the bell well and moving around into open spaces. Ozbiliz caused problems in defence, drawing Nicolai Boilesen to a foul and subsequently, a yellow card. Ozbiliz took the free quick well, forcing the keeper into making a big save, but could not connect on the rebounding cross. Two minutes of added time was all Armenia would get, which went by far too quickly, Armenia unable to equalize. The final score of the game: Armenia 0-1 Denmark.
Final Thoughts: Armenia Good, Not Good Enough
Armenia now has two games left to play in Group B: one against Bulgaria, the last, against Italy. The problem Armenia now faces is that they require a full six points to have hope at finishing in the second spot in the group. Sure, it could be done with four points, but any points will be hard to come by against those two sides.
This may be it for Armenia, who have matured beyond their years, have grown together as a unit and produced some fine footballers in the process. As a child, I remember Armenia as a team with plenty of heart but little talent to go along with it. Those days are now gone, it seems. The name Mkhitaryan is well known now, his time at Borussia Dortmund just beginning, but there are new faces, too, that warrant mention.Aras Ozbiliz has emerged as a real talent for Armenia, and that was on full display against Denmark, as he danced around several midfielders and defenders for the full 90 minutes. It's not just an emergence of talent, however, that makes this Armenia a pleasure to watch; there is also a beauty in their physical play. Unlike many physical sides, Armenia plays with technique and finesse. Sure, the style of play may be rough, as is the tactical approach Armenia has taken, but unlike other hard hitting sides, Armenia recovers the ball with two parts physicality and one part technique.
It makes Armenia a good side, but not a great one. It keeps Armenia from being blown out in matches, even when they lose. It makes Armenia a side that bigger teams now fear, where once the name was associated with teams like San Marino or Malta. This Armenia team is young, capable and showing results. It is not to be taken lightly, as Denmark learned during their last encounter, and as many other teams have found out in recent years. Once more, Armenia exceeds expectations but come up short. They, like many other underdog sides, will one day have their day, too. However, it looks less and less likely that that day will come in Brazil.
Perhaps, with a touch of experience gained in the Bundesliga for Heno, and the maturation of players like Ghazaryan, Ozbiliz and Movsisyan, Armenia will become a force to be reckoned with during the UEFA Euro cup qualifiers. They may even make
it to the finals, as they nearly did back in 2012. One thing is certain, though. Armenia is no longer a minnow in Europe. They have proven themselves to be a threat. As they continue to grow, so too will soccer in the country, a country born nearly two thousand years ago and independent, now, since 1991.
Good, but not quite there yet for Armenia. Bring on the Bulgarians.
12 Gevorg Kasparov
3 Varazdat Haroyan
13 Kamo Hovhannisyan
20 Levon Hayrapetyan
15 Hrayr Mkoyan
6 Karlen Mkrtchyan
7 Artur Yedigaryan
10 Gevorg Ghazaryan
8 Marcos Pizzelli
18 Henrikh Mkhitaryan (C)
23 Aras Ozbiliz
Substitutions: Artur Sarkisov in for Karlen Mkrtchyan (26'); Sargis Adamyan in for Artur Sarkisov (45'); David Manoyan in for Marcos Pizzelli (70').