Armenia's European hopes now rest squarely on the shoulders of FC Pyunik and FC Mika after FC Banants and Ulisses FC both eliminated in the UEFA Europa League first knockout round.
Titleholders Pyunik kick off their UEFA Champions League campaign at FK Partizan on Wednesday, looking to reach the third qualifying round for the first time. The Yerevan side are playing in qualifying for Europe's top club competition for the tenth time, having passed through the first qualifying round during four previous campaigns.
Coach Vardan Minasyan believes success in Europe is an even bigger deal than the club's quest for a tenth successive Armenian title, where they are three points behind a Banants side beaten by Anorthosis Famagusta FC last week. "For me it's more important to go through one or two UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds than win the championship," he said.
Partizan looks a tough draw for Pyunik, but Minasyan insisted: "
We don't have to reinvent the wheel to beat them. I have explored their style thoroughly and nothing is impossible for us. I'm not underestimating them, but I don't overrate them either. Our league has been up and running for a while. Theirs hasn't started yet."
Mika will hope that extra match fitness will do them good as they meet the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's FK Rabotnicki in their UEFA Europa League second qualifying round opener in Skopje on Thursday. They have only won one European tie in eight attempts, beating MTK Budapest in their opening 2007/08 UEFA Cup qualifier.
Somewhat ominously, Rabotnicki triumphed 11-0 on aggregate against FC Lusitans in their first qualifying round tie – the biggest margin of victory in Europe so far this season – with Brazilian Fábio Silva hitting five. However, Mika's new striker Aram Voskanyan is not about to be intimidated.
"Our chances against Rabotnicki are 50-50," he said. "I know they are mobile, uncompromising and feel confident after winning at the previous stage. We have had some problems in domestic football, but it's another story here.
Two Armenian teams have been knocked out. We are fighting for the whole of Armenian football now."
Last season saw all four of Armenia's European representatives fall at their first hurdles. Mika sporting director Armen Petikyan now hopes his side's battle can become a national crusade. "Our goal is to reach the next round," he said. "The whole of Armenia will be behind us against Rabotnicki. We really need that; it helps a lot."
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