Armenia took on the Czech Republic in Prague in the latest round of World Cup qualifiers. In this hard fought encounter, Armenia battled back to a 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic, a win that gives Vardan Minasyan’s side a much-needed three points in Group B.
The game itself was decidedly one-sided at times, with the Czech Republic controlling much of the possession and forcing Armenia into their own half. A spattering of corner kicks gave the Czech Republic a few chances at goal, but it was Armenia who would strike first, courtesy of Karlen Mkrtchyan at the half hour mark. The Armenian central midfielder’s long-range effort beat Petr Cech and curled into the top right corner, an absolutely stunning goal from a player not known for his goalscoring.
Up 1-0, Armenia continued to defend against Tomas Rosicky and co., keeping to their traditional counterattacking style of play. Armenia looked composed and fleet footed on the counter, with Borussia Dortmund’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan in particular causing trouble for the Czech defenders. Yura Movsisyan of Spartak Moscow also looked threatening at times, but couldn’t get away a shot without being bombarded by the Czech Republic’s Theodor Gebre Selassie. The two teams headed into the locker rooms split by the one goal, Armenia the happier of the two but Czech Republic looking much more dangerous.
In the second half, Armenia continued to bunker down in defence and absorb the Czech Republic’s continuous pressure. Three changes were made in the first 10 minutes of the second half, Michal Bilek making no secret of his intention to level the game quickly. However, the key substitution of the game came when Armenian goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky injured his right knee, and was forced to come off in place of veteran replacement, Gevorg Kasparov.
Visibly hungry for a goal, the Czech Republic turned up the pressure once more, and it was Rosicky who finally found an equalizer, cracking a shot from well outside the box, which deflected off the back of a crouching Armenian defender. The rebound beat Kasparov, smacked against the crossbar, then the line, before ruffling the top of the net. Now level, Armenia found a few chances of their own, Mkhitaryan linking up with Movsisyan on the counterattack. However, the former Real Salt Lake forward made a mess of the shot, tripping over his own feet and conceding possession in front of Cech’s net.
The corner count continued to rise for the Czech Republic, who looked more and more threatening as the match continued to roll along. With minutes to go, Armenia once again found a chance on the counterattack, with Gevorg Ghazaryan, Mkhitaryan and Movsisyan found themselves three-on-three against the Czech Republic defenders. Mkhitrayan slipped the ball through to an open Movsisyan, who took a shot on goal but couldn’t beat an onrushing Cech.
With four minutes of added time given by the fourth official, the Czech Republic continued to win corners and create chances, but it was Armenia who managed to find the back of the net once more in the 92nd minute. Ghevorg Ghazaryan found himself in front of net with the ball at his feet after a great assist pass by Movsisyan, and while his initial shot met with the hand of Cech, the rebound landed perfectly on his head, which he nodded passed the line. Armenia pick up a 2-1 win in the Czech Republic, and now sit tied in the standings with their opponents at nine points each, one behind Bulgaria, who are second in Group B.
So, what does this mean for Armenia? With four more games to play in the group, Armenia needs to take home as many points as possible if they are to enter into the playoff round. Italy has all but secured their spot as leaders of group B, but Armenia, now sitting tied for third with the Czech Republic, still has important games against Bulgaria and Denmark to look forward to. A final game against the Italians could be the most important, and should Italy qualify by then, a B-side may be awaiting Armenia come October 15. However, Armenia will need to defeat Bulgaria to keep hope alive. Another loss against the Bulgarians will not bode well for Armenia, and while a positive result against Denmark is also difficult, it’s against Bulgaria that Armenia needs to come up big.
Also worth noting is Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s current goalscoring tally. He sits just one goal away from becoming Armenia’s leading goalscorer. These next few months will be very important for Dortmund newest midfielder, and though his performance against the Czech Republic was strong, he’ll need to double his efforts in order to take down the likes of Denmark or even Italy.
If Armenia do manage to sneak into the second spot in Group B, the path to the World Cup in Brazil does get a little closer, but it won’t be any easier. A playoff round against many of Europe’s finest teams means Armenia will have a rough go of things before next summer. However, if this kind of play continues, Armenia may be a team to watch. They’ve certainly turned heads this year with solid performances against mightier foes. Defensively, Armenia still needs to improve, and while the forwards continue to produce goalscoring chances, being a little more clinical in front of net is key for any future success. Still, Armenia can be proud with today’s late win, and will be watching keenly as Italy takes on Bulgaria, hoping beyond hope that the Azzurri can defeat Bulgaria and keep them at 10 points.
An Italian win or not, Armenian soccer fans will be pleased with yet another win in the bag in Group B!