After a 2-1 FIFA World Cup qualifying win against Belgium in Yerevan on 9 September 2009, it looked like Vardan Minasyan's Armenia were going somewhere. As it transpired, it was a road to nowhere.
The euphoria of that success dissipated with defeats by Spain and Turkey in their remaining qualifiers, while three friendly games this year in Yerevan brought 3-1 losses to Belarus and Iran either side of a 3-1 victory over Uzbekistan. However, with their opening UEFA EURO 2012 fixture against the Republic of Ireland looming on 3 September, Minsayan told UEFA.com that things are looking up for the former Soviet republic.
"We have had three friendlies and have done everything I wanted during the warm-up period," said the 36-year-old, once a well-respected midfielder at FC Pyunik, who stepped up from assistant coach to replace Jan Poulsen as national-team boss in March 2009. "In addition, we organise three-day training camps for all our Armenia-based players every month. I can see the team improving, although the media and fans have yet to be satisfied."
Minasyan has focused his efforts on bringing new blood into his squad, saying: "I need men with a burning desire to play for their country. Now I have just these kinds of people in the team. There is competition for places in the starting lineup which is also important. We are trying to combine youth and experience, and build a good team that will fight until the end in every game. I believe we are on the right track."
However, while he is pleased with his work, he knows Armenian fans and pundits will take some persuading. "For some reason, our supporters and the media expect us to win whoever we play," he said. "They forget that Armenia are not a major football country, far from it. They have a right to demand a decent display and total commitment, but any team can have setbacks – just look at France. My aim is to create a competitive team for the EURO campaign. I want our rivals to know they will not have an easy time against Armenia."
Russia, Slovakia, Ireland, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Andorra will be Armenia's Group B opponents, and Minasyan expects a battle in every match. "No one doubts the strength of Ireland and Russia, but who says FYROM and Slovakia are weak sides? Even against Andorra, we will have to sweat. But we will attempt to win every game. I need patriots in my team and I have them."
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