By Igor Panevski at the Gradski stadium
Armenian champions FC Pyunik have one foot in the second qualifying round of the 2004/05 UEFA Champions League after a convincing 3-1 victory in Skopje tonight against FK Pobeda of F.Y.R Macedonia.
Edgar Manucharyan was the hero for the visiting side, scoring twice and making his side's other goal for Zhora Hovhannisyan. All of this came in the first half but the last action of note in the opening 45 minutes was the dismissal of Pyunik's Karen Aleksanyan. Pobeda were able to pull one back in the second half but their chances of progression after the return in Yerevan a week on Wednesday look slim.
The 17-year-old Manucharyan looked lively from the opening whistle at the Gradski stadium. He was nearly on target in the third minute only for Pobeda goalkeeper Tome Pandev to save what seemed a certain goal. However, the striker was not to be denied and scored his first 12 minutes later. A long pass from Aghvan Mkrtchyan set Manucharyan clear and he made no mistake.
Much to the relief of the 3,000 home fans, Pobeda found their range in the 20th minute with Blagoja Gešoski firing just wide from 16 metres. However, the hosts found themselves two behind in the 26th minute, Manucharyan turning provider for Hovhannisyan to put Pyunik in command. With five minutes left in the half, Manucharyan added his second after a defensive mix-up and Pobeda were seemingly on their way out of the competition before it had barely started.
However, a second yellow card for Aleksanyan two minutes later gave Pobeda a lifeline. Yet, despite their man advantage for the entire second half, the Macedonian title-holders struggled to find a way back into the contest and it took until the 81st minute for Gešoski to capitalise on a defensive error and score a consolation for his side. With a two-goal deficit and a trip to Armenia to come, Pobeda have their work cut out and Pyunik are well on course to face FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the second qualifying round.