A third-place finish in the 2008 Armenian championship earned FC Gandzasar Kapan their first ever tilt at European football in the form of the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round. Due to visit NAC Breda today, the club have nonetheless struggled to maintain last season's standards this year.
Founded in 2004, the Kapan outfit spent two years in the second flight before achieving promotion and another two years later celebrated their first podium finish under Samvel Petrosyan. One of Armenia's most respected coaches, his greatest impact was changing the team's mentality after arriving in July 2007. "They started to play with more confidence," he said. "We created a competitive side and that was the first big achievement for our club. I'm happy we took third despite our limited squad, but it's going to be up to my successors to guide the club to new peaks."
Slava Gabrielyan is the man currently patrolling the sidelines as his predecessor was dismissed at the start of the current campaign, following Gandzasar's early Armenian Cup exit and three consecutive defeats in the Bardzraguyn khumb. No fewer than eight players also left the club at that stage. "The first task for me was to create a new team," said Gabrielyan. "Gradually the team found their way and we started to earn points. We climbed off the bottom of the table and proved our ability to play well. But the level we need to be playing at is still a long way off. We have to work hard. At the same time, we're trying to sign new players. It's a big honour to represent Armenia in the UEFA Europa League and we'll try to do our best."
In a bid to boost their chances of qualification, the club have six Georgian players on trial, and negotiations are ongoing with a number of locally based players. It is difficult to identify much continuity from last term, but former Armenian international defender Valeri Aleksanyan – now in his third season at Gandzasar – is optimistic about the future. "Failure can happen at any club," he explained. "We're experiencing some problems after finishing third, but the situation has started to improve now. We overcame our playing crisis and we're preparing ourselves for the matches against Breda. They're strong opponents; however, it's only in games like this that we can prove our difficult times are behind us."
Unbeaten in four league outings, Gandzasar now lie fifth out of eight teams and leading striker Arsen Avetisyan also has faith in his side's chances, despite the level of squad turnover. "We have a lot of experienced players and, along with the young players, they're keen to build on our success last season by achieving some good results in Europe," he said. "We need to find a common language with the new players as soon as possible. That's very important for our performances to come."
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