It was a case of same old story in Armenia this season. For the second year running, none of the country's European representatives managed to get past the first hurdle of continental competition, with just one win and two draws to show from their eight games.
Banants fall short
FC Banants were on the receiving end of a 10-0 aggregate defeat by FC Salzburg last year, but with new coach Armen Gyulbudaghyants at the helm, the Yerevan-based side have shown steady improvement. However, they still fell just short in the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round this term, a 1-0 win at NK Široki Brijeg not making up for their 2-0 loss in the first leg. "The tie was decided in the first match," Gyulbudaghyants told uefa.com. "We didn't have enough information about our opponents and injuries didn't allow us to play our best squad."
Last season, a young FC Pyunik side were eliminated by Anorthosis Famagusta FC in UEFA Champions League qualifying, the Cypriot side subsequently going all the way to the group stage. The Armenian champions again faced strong opponents in the form of NK Dinamo Zagreb, claiming a commendable goalless draw in their second qualifying round opener. However, the Croatian side were too strong in the return, running out 3-0 winners with Pyunik badly missing talisman Henrik Mkhitaryan, transferred to Ukraine's FC Metallurh Donetsk this summer. "We played much better than last year, we were more confident," coach Vardan Minasyan said. "With Mkhitaryan, we could possibly have expected a different result."
With a new-look squad featuring several Armenian internationals and foreign talent, FC MIKA had high hopes going into their UEFA Europa League first qualifying round tie against Helsingborgs IF. They looked on course for a great result in the opener in Sweden, but conceded two late goals to lose 3-1 and could not turn it around at home. "We played well but our opponents were too strong," conceded MIKA coach Samvel Darbinyan. "They forced us to raise our game and this experience will help us in the national league." Darbinyan will certainly hope so, as his side sit joint-top of the Bardzraguyn khumb alongside perennial champions Pyunik.
FC Gandzasar Kapan were making their debut in Europe this season but it was a rude awakening as they were beaten 6-0 by NAC Breda in the first leg of their second qualifying round tie, succumbing 8-0 overall. "For the first time in our life, we played in a stadium with 13,500 fans," said coach Slava Gabrielyan. "The level of our leagues is very different; we lost in every aspect of the game." Despite the disappointment, there was a level of improvement from Armenia's representatives this year after eight defeats from as many games last season, although Minasyan admitted there was still a long way to go. "I think only Mika had a real chance of qualifying for the next round. Pyunik and Banants have inexperienced squads and Gandzasar were just not ready for Europe."
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