A surprise package in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying, Armenia go into their final two fixtures firmly in contention for a top-two finish in Group B – a feat that is no shock to goalscoring midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan.
Armenia have certainly caused a stir: their 3-1 and 4-0 victories over Slovakia as well as handsome wins against Andorra leave Vardan Minasyan's side third in the section, three points behind leaders Russia and two short of second-placed Republic of Ireland. If their position comes as a revelation to some, Mkhitaryan says self-belief and organisation have been key to their success.
"The results do not suddenly come out of the blue," the 22-year-old told UEFA.com. "We have many young players who have earned the coaches' trust and have a clear understanding of what needs to be done. Our football is based on mutual trust between coaches and players. Everyone has the same approach, be it the coaches, the players, the Football Federation of Armenia or our team doctors. We are a whole and healthy mechanism."
The FC Shakhtar Donetsk prospect is one of three players to have netted four times in the campaign – a personal tally that is enhanced by his three assists in those eight games. Armenia have therefore scored 17 goals, the best return in Group B. However, Mkhitaryan is reluctant to get carried away ahead of Friday's visit of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the potentially decisive trip to Ireland four days later. "We should not be thinking about the chance of qualifying," he said.
"We just need to play the same football that got us results in our last matches," he added. "We need to believe in our strength and give everything we have. The team should be focused on Macedonia. We must concentrate on the game in front of us that we have to win. After we have done that, we can start thinking about Ireland."
Although he has been singled out for praise, Mkhitaryan highlights the spirit and camaraderie in the squad as essential components for progress. "Our main strength is the team," he said. "Henrik Mkhitaryan would not be able to achieve anything alone. I am not myself without my team or my team-mates. It is thanks to the men I play alongside that I can show what I am capable of. So I am deeply grateful to my colleagues for their belief in themselves and in me. Together we are striving towards one goal."
The national team's qualifying attempt has not gone unnoticed on home soil, with Mkhitaryan one of the current crop who is much admired among the public. "What matters most is that Armenian youngsters can follow the example of an Armenian player," said the former FC Pyunik man, who moved to Ukraine with FC Metalurh Donetsk in 2009/10 before joining Shakhtar during the following season. "We do our best to make our people happy, and if role models begin to emerge that means we are on the right track. I am deeply honoured to be the one young players look up to."
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