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Pyunik poised for pivotal match

Armenian hopes rest on FC Pyunik as they try to overturn a one-goal deficit against Finnish champions FC Haka.

By Khachik Chakhoyan and Mikael Erävuori

FC Pyunik have the weight of a nation's hopes on their shoulders this evening as they bid to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit at home to FC Haka in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round.

Best hopes
With FC MIKA and FC Banants likely to bow out of the UEFA Cup following first-leg defeats, Pyunik look to be their country's last remaining European hope. The Armenian champions are also behind in their tie with Haka but with home advantage, coach Henk Wisman is confident of cancelling out Juha Pasoja's solitary goal and securing a tie with Norway's Vålerenga IF.

Cautious attack
"We'll try to press from the start and take control of the match," the Dutchman said. "We have to score at least once, but we're not going to go all-out attack, as that would allow Haka opportunities on the counterattack. They showed in the first game that they can quickly switch from defence to attack."

U19 departures
Yet Wisman has a number of personnel problems going into the second leg in the Armenian capital Yerevan, with Mamadou Diawara struggling with a knock. The Mali striker is likely to recover, but goalkeeper Edel Bete and midfielder Carl Lombe are definitely unavailable after joining Armenia's squad for the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Northern Ireland.

Key losses
Wisman's opposite number Olli Huttunen also has selection headaches after the side landed in sweltering Yerevan without forward Valeri Popovich due to a fear of flying. His absence is especially hard to bear after the Finnish champions lost three key players following last season, Harri Ylönen, Sergei Terehhov and Sami Ristilä all departing.

Domestic malaise
Haka have failed to regain their fluency this term, and lie six points behind league leaders Myllykosken Pallo-47 after 14 games. They have lost just once, however, and should they avoid a second seasonal defeat tonight the Valkeakoski-based team will progress to meet Vålerenga.

Revenge mission
That tie would allow Haka to restore some national pride after they were eliminated by another Norwegian outfit, Stabæk IF, at the same stage last season. "We played two poor matches against Stabæk," striker Toni Lehtinen said. "Now we want to get back to Oslo for another try. We want to show the Norwegians we're a better team than they probably think."