Here I take an in-depth look into Armenia stretching from key players, the manager and national stadium to the stats and tables to fans.
Armenia, who are ranked 46th in the FIFA Rankings, is a footballing nation I have always been curious about. A little known European country who continue to produce pleasing performances on the pitch and pop up with the odd wonderkid under national team coach Vardan Minasyan. Armenia are genuinely very underestimated as the nation holds up to just over three million people and it's a country where football isn't that big or important to many of the population. Armenia so boast a fair few well known players, notably Henrikh Mkhitaryan who plays for Ukranian champions Shakhtar Donetsk. Anyway, we have a lot to cover so I'll start with the key players and then move on to the manager and the national stadium.
Name: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Club: Shakhtar Donetsk
Mkhitaryan is Armenia's second all time top goalscorer with eight goals in twenty-seven appearances as he sits behind Arthur Petrosyan who has eleven goals in seventy appearances. It just shows the level of players Armenia have as their all time top goalscorer has eleven goals to his name and Mkhitaryan is surely only a couple of matches away from breaking a record and heading into top spot. The 22-year-old playmaker has bundles of talent and is listed by many as Armenia's greatest ever player. Henrikh joined Shakhtar Donetsk last season for £7.5million and has already played in sixteen fixtures for his club this season netting twice in the process.
Name: Sargis Hovsepyan
Club: Pyunik Yerevan
Hovsepyan made his debut for the national side in 1992 and has a staggering 125 caps for his nation. The 39-year-old is also the captain of Vardan Minasyan's team and is the ever present figure in the heart of the Armenia defence. Sargis started his career off with Malatia Yerevan and now plays for Pyunik Yerevan as a right-back, although the much experienced defender can also play in a deep midfield role if needs be.
The man in charge
Name: Vardan Minasyan
Minasyan took over as caretaker coach in August 2007 as Scotsman Ian Porterfield was forced to resign as he suffered advanced cancer. Minasyan, who is currently managing club side Pyunik Yerevan as well as Armenia, only lasted six games in charge, though, and was terminated. In 2008 Danish manager Jan Poulsen was named the new national team head coach and Minasyan was named his assistant. But after a poor year in charge, Poulsen was shown the door and Vardan got another chance to shine in the hot seat. In June 2008, Minasyan became coach of Pyunik Yerevan, one of the best Armenian teams there is, as he took over from Armen Gyulbudaghyants. And then in Febuary 2010, he was assigned to manage the national side as top dog as a replacement for the sacked Jan Poulsen. Minasyan's philosphy is quite an attacking one as he usually plays a 443 system, with club and country.
Where they play
Name: Hrazdan Stadium
The Hrazdan Stadium is Armenia's national football stadium and holds just over 50,000 people. It's the largest sports venue in the whole of Armenia and is also the home of FC Aratat Yerevan and Ulisses, two football clubs that play in the Armenian domestic leagues. It's based in the country's capital, Yerevan, and was completed and built within eleven months. The wonderful arena also holds concerts and various special events. It's the home of Armenian football and a huge asset to the nation.
Qualification Report Card
Armenia didn't qualify for the Euro 2012 Championships unfortunatley but they can take some positives out of the experience. Minasyan's men finished third in Group B behind Ireland and Russia who both finished second and first respecitvely. Armenia finished on 17 points and were just one position off a play-off game that could've got them through to the Euro's next year. Teams that finished below them were Slovakia, Macedonia and Andorra. They did the double over Andorra and Slovakia. Not bad. Star player Mkhitaryan scored four goals in the qualifiers, too, which contributed hugely to the team's final finish.
Now we move onto the World Cup which will be held in Brazil in 2014. Armenia have been handed a tricky group as the sides that they will have to face are as follows: Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Malta. A very tough group. Of course, this is football and anything can happen but I doubt they'll be able to qualify with this group including the likes of 2006 World Cup winners Italy. But as the head coach Minasyan himself once said in an interview after a match with Macedonia, "We will fight in every game. Whoever the opponent is we will fight until the end. I believe in this team." Fair enough.
Argh. Of course, how could I forget? The fans. Armenian people, generally, aren't that bothered about football. But there is always a few who care and love the beautiful game. Armenian fans haven't had too much excitement over the past years as the side have failed to qualify for any major competitions. I watched the Ireland vs Armenia Euro 2012 match on the television a couple of months ago and there were a lot of Armenian fans in Ireland to watch their team play. I was shocked but pleased for the side to get that extra bit of support. And as the domestic league is at a relatively poor standard fans of the game tend to turn to the international side for happiness and entertainment. As I said before, it's a nation with a population of around three million, so the people are there to support the team, it's whether they can be bothered to or not. Armenia are producing some good players, as Mkhitaryan has more than proved. In fifty years or so who knows where Armenia will be and what level they'll be playing at. They are, after all, in the top 50 in the FIFA World Rankings, so stick around Armenia fans.
So here my article comes to and end. I've covered the key players, manager and national stadium plus the chances of Armenia qualifying for any real major tournaments, all to give you lot a greater insight into the little known nation that could, could, surpirse many further down the line and finally make a mark on the European or World stage. It's a footballing nation with plenty of potential, it has the players and structure to progress and develop. I really do hope Armenia can push on and hopefully do well in their World Cup 2014 qualifying group. Profile over.