Armenia enter every qualifying campaign with little realistic chance of progressing, yet they do hope for the occasional moral victory along the way.
They started off their EURO 2000™ qualifying campaign with one such success as they beat Andorra in their opening game, cruising to a 3-1 victory thanks to two goals from the pacy Tigran Yesayan. The Armenians did even better in their next match, holding a tough Iceland side to a 0-0 draw, a result built on a fantastic performance by goalkeeper Roman Berezovskiy. The keeper, who is of Russian origin, produced another magnificent display four days later against Ukraine in Kiev, but it was not enough. Beaten twice, Ukraine went down 2-0.
Cause for confidence
The Armenian attack, which had lacked imagination against Ukraine, improved in the first match of 1999, against Russia in Yerevan in March. The home side kept the pressure on for 70 minutes, but it just was not their night. After Artur Mkrtchian had had a goal disallowed, the Russians hit back with three unanswered strikes. Still, the performance gave Armenia cause for confidence. Three months later, thanks to more brilliance from Berezovskiy in goal and an excellent display from Sargis Ovsepyan at sweeper, they held Ukraine 0-0 at home.
Pride in defeat
The best performance of the campaign came in September 1999 against world champions France, six months after a 2-0 loss in France. The Armenians stunned the French with a fifth-minute opener, when Karapen Mikaelyan raced clear of the visitors’ defence to beat the helpless Barthez. Three minutes from half-time, Youri Djorakaeff levelled from the penalty spot, and Zidane and Laslandes added two more in the second half. But Armenia were not finished, Shakhgeldyan reducing the deficit with an injury-time penalty. No points but certainly some pride.
Draw in Oslo
After finishing fifth in their six-man EURO 2000™ qualifying group, Armenia welcomed a new coach in Vaurzhan Sukiasyan ahead of their 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. They started well, holding group favourites Norway to a goalless draw in Oslo, a result that again owed much to Berezovskiy and Ovsepian.
Yet Armenia would not win a single Group Five game. They suffered heavy defeats against Belarus, Poland and Ukraine en route to finishing bottom of the group. Some confidence was to be gained from draw against Wales (home and away), Poland, and Belarus, although the campaign ended on a low point, with a 4-1 home drubbing by Norway. Sukiasyan subsequently resigned and now Armenians are waiting for a new coach to arrive, and, hopefully, get the best from a group of obviously talented and hard-working players.
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