FC Banants won their first Armenian title in May, but as they prepare for their UEFA Champions League debut at FC Santa Coloma on Tuesday, goalkeeper Artur Toroyan is thinking big. "Playing in the UEFA Champions League is a success in itself, but the most important thing for us is not just taking part in the competition but taking part well," the 22-year-old explained.
That is a measure of the way the Yerevan side's horizons have risen since the arrival of Slovakian coach Zsolt Hornyák at the start of last season. Given very little time to regroup, Hornyák's Banants were 11 points adrift of the summit at the winter break. However, they were transformed in the spring, speeding to the top of the standings and claiming the title with a 1-0 win against FC Pyunik on the penultimate day of the season.
"We played like The Three Musketeers – one for all and all for one," Toroyan told UEFA.com, with fellow 22-year-old – midfielder Rumyan Hovsepyan – adding: "I often hear that the Armenian league is not that great, but you try and win it! It is not easy. That was why our joy after winning it had no limits. We put our coach's ideas into practice, played football worthy of champions and deserved the title."
They must now put in another performance worthy of title holders when they visit Andorra, with the departure of captain Hovhannes Hambartsumyan for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's FK Vardar leaving a question mark at the heart of the Proud Eagles' defence. New signings include one-time FC Zenit trainee defender Maksim Usanov, former PFC CSKA Moskva midfielder Nika Piliev and FC Ararat striker Gevorg Nranyan.
However, Toroyan knows that Santa Coloma will not buckle easily. "There is no sense discussing Santa Coloma's weakness – only champions play in this competition and that says it all," he said. "We just have to go out and show our worth. We have to play at our best and give total commitment, or we won't win it. It is not only our club we are representing but our country, and that is a big responsibility. We will try to come out of this challenge with honour."
With a tie against Israeli side Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC on offer for the winners, Hovsepyan is determined that there will be no slip-ups. "It is a debut UEFA Champions League appearance not only for the team but also for almost all the players," he said. "This group has potential and its own style of play. We just have to put both into action now. If we do, Banants have every chance to go further in this competition."
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