Last season was considered to be something of a humiliation for the Armenian Premier League, with all four contenders eliminated from Europe at their first hurdles, but FC Pyunik, FC Banants, FC Mika and Ulisses FC will look to improve on that this season.
Paired with Serbia's FK Partizan in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round, Pyunik have made it through a qualifying round on three previous occasions, most recently in 2007/08. Since then, the club's squad has been revitalised by a focus on local youngsters; at the moment, the only foreign-born player in their squad is Brazilian Markos Pizelli, who has taken Armenian citizenship.
However, given the massive task they face, coach Vardan Minasyan may change things, admitting: "We would like to strengthen in some positions so there are some foreigners on trial." Minasyan set his side the "minimal goal" of reaching the third qualifying round before their rather cruel draw, and fate was not much kinder to FC Banants, who will meet former UEFA Champions League group stage contenders Anorthosis Famagusta FC in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League.
Stevica Kuzmanovski's side top the Armenian table, though, and boast two star forwards, Brazilian Du Bala and Nigerian Deniran Ortega. "
Banants are on the up and I hope we will prove that with a good performance in the UEFA Europa League," said the 47-year-old Kuzmanovski, who started his career as a defender with Partizan. "Banants were the first Armenian club to progress through a round in a European club competition, though it was quite a while ago in 2005 [they beat FC Lokomotivi Tbilisi in the UEFA Cup first qualifying round]. We want to repeat that and even improve on it."
Mika have been given a relatively good UEFA Europa League second qualifying round draw – against Andorra's FC Lusitans or FK Rabotnicki from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - but are in poor form in the league, winning only one of their last six games. "Every club goes through hard times," shrugged coach Armen Adamyan. "We are doing our best to get through this and I hope we will do it before the UEFA Europa League starts."
Mika at least have European experience behind them, but it is all new for Ulisses as they take on Israel's Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC. Coach Sevada Arzumanyan can only hope that the significance of the occasion does not get to his men. "The UEFA Europa League is a test for all of us," he said. "We know that we're representing not only the club, but also our country. We have a lot of potential and we will try hard to fulfil it."
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