Dream dashed in Dublin
Published: Tuesday October 11, 2011
Washington - Armenia missed an unprecedented opportunity to qualify for Euro 2012 championship after losing 1:2 to Republic of Ireland in October 11 match that was watched by Armenia fans from around the world with trepidation and pride but also disbelief and disappointment.
A clearly unjustified call by a referee red-carding Armenia's veteran goalkeeper on 26th minute meant that Armenia was left to play most of the match with a man down and goal tended by a substitute who just turned 20 and was making his international debut.
Armenia's troubles were compounded by an own goal just before the end of first half and another one at the one hour mark. But Armenia went down fighting, shortening Ireland's lead and refusing to give up in the remainder of the match.
"Rough justice" as Ireland "compensated" at Armenia's expense
The two teams played a largely even game in the first 25 minutes with Armenia controlling the ball better. Initial efforts by Henrik Mkhitaryan and Yura Movsisyan went wide but as in previous games Armenia was beginning cautiously while building up for an offensive on Ireland goal. Ireland was first to test Armenia with Kevin Doyle strike handled with relative ease by Roman Berezovsky.
More than 50,000 capacity Dublin stadium was only half full and several hundred Armenian supporters were frequently audible with their chants of "Hayer!" and "Hayastan Hup Tur!"
Then on 26th minute Armenia was suddenly and deeply wounded in its most vulnerable spot. With Ireland's Simon Cox on counterattack, but followed closely by two Armenian defenders, Berezovsky sought to ascertain the charge would be neutralized by leaving his box and stopping the ball with his chest. (As video replay showed, Cox himself used his hand as he tried to control the ball, but video replays are not consulted by referees in European football.)
Spanish referee interpreted the episode as a handball by the goalkeeper, showing Berezovsky a red card and giving Ireland a leg up for the rest of the match.
Hot off the showdown Armenia's captain Sarkis Hovsepyan told ArmSport.am that he thought the call was an intentional effort to compensate Ireland for the injustice it suffered in its match with France in 2010 World Cup qualification play-off.
In that match the referees missed a handball by a French player shortly before France scored in added time, leaving Ireland out of the Cup. Ireland's football federation at the time formally appealed for the match to be re-played, but international football officials disagreed.
After the October 11 match Irish players and commentators readily admitted that the call was unjustified and that Cox himself handled the ball. One Irish newspaper called it "rough justice" for Ireland's grievance against France.
Chair of Armenia's Football Federation derided the referee in his Facebook posting and said that Armenia would seek to have the red card against Berezovsky annulled. But according to News.am he also dismissed speculations that referee's actions were part of a conspiracy to help Ireland.
Odds compounded with own goal
Without Berezovsky and a man down Armenia nevertheless dominated in the remainder of the first half, at one stretch of the game enjoying 71 percent ball possession. But few real threats were posed to Ireland goal and own mistakes eventually made the match unwinnable for Armenia.
Two minutes before the break, Armenia's defender Valery Aleksanyan sent Ireland's cross into his own net. Both before and after this devastating mistake Aleksanyan played the match with diligence doing well to repeatedly stop Irish advances.
A minute later Spanish referee showed no compassion for Armenia's replacement goalkeeper giving Arsen Petrosyan a yellow card after he slipped across the box line while handling the ball.
Second half began with Armenia's first genuine effort on goal, when Movsisyan strike was saved by Shay Given on 46th minute.
Irish took over the initiative in subsequent quarter of an hour. Armenia was visibly nervous losing the ball on more than a dozen occasions through this stretch culminating in Richard Dunne's goal from Aiden McGeady's cross on 60th minute.
(Ironically, just ten days earlier Dunne himself scored an own goal against Given in an English Premier League match for Aston Villa where both play. But this time all irony was at Armenia's expense).
Just two minutes later, however, Armenia shortened Ireland's lead with Mkhitaryan's strike from twenty meters out. The goal was a twin of Mkhitaryan's strike against Slovakia last year and was the first goal allowed by Ireland since March.
With Edgar Manucharyan coming in for Marcos Pizzelli and Artur Sarkisov for Gevorg Ghazaryan, Armenia pressed on but Movsisyan's and Karlen Mkrtchyan's efforts went wide and Manucharyan's header just high.
Towards the end of the match referee seemingly warmed up to Armenia. Doyle was sent off after a second yellow on 81st minute and referee did not appoint a penalty shot against Armenia after an apparent fault by Petrosyan on 83rd minute.
But that proved little help for visibly tired Armenia which mounted just a few attacks in the final few minutes of the match. Given caught the ball after Hovsepyan's cross and deflected Manucharyan's strike minutes later.
One dream dashed, will another flourish?
Just over a year ago, only diehard Armenia football fans could have dreamed of the heights since reached by the national football team. Armenia rose into the Top 50 of world football for the first time in its history, amazing Armenians and football critics around the world with its scoring prowess.
With all the progress clearly achieved, and all that has and will be said about referee's role, the Ireland match also served to expose Armenia's weaknesses.