Armenia recruit Ozbiliz in strong showing for club, national team
Published: Thursday February 23, 2012
Washington - Aras Ozbiliz, who signed on with Armenia's football team last October, became the hero of the match as his Ajax Amsterdam beat Manchester United in its home field of Old Trafford on February 23.
Despite this valiant away effort, MU moved into the next round of the Europa League tournament on balance of winning 2:0 in the first match in the Netherlands and the 1:2 loss in the UK.
Ozbiliz strike from outside the box put the teams level on 37th minute and his free-kick on 87th minute was concluded with a header, leaving Ajax just a goal shy of advancing at the expense of one of the world's most formidable football teams. (Video of the goals is available here.)
This was only the second Euro match with Ajax's main roster for the 21-year-old Ozbiliz and featured only his first goal for the team following an almost a year-long recovery from injury.
Born in Istanbul's Bakirkoy, Ozbiliz grew up in the Netherlands. Of Armenian descent, he reportedly declined offers to play for Turkey or waiting to be picked by Holland, choosing Armenia instead.
Ajax coach Frank "De Boer was convinced that within two to three years I might become a player of the Dutch national team," Ozbiliz was quoted as saying by GiveMeFootball.com site. "Holland might be a good choice in sporting terms but my heart beats for Armenia. That's why I made this choice."
Ozbiliz played the entirety of Armenia's friendly fixture with Canada played in Cyprus on February 29, what became his international debut and opportunity to show off his skills on the ball and in combination play with Armenia's offensive line of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Yura Movsisyan, Marcos Pizzelli and Artur Sarkisov.
After allowing Canada to capitalize from a corner kick early in the match, Armenia went to score three times as Pizzelli put two in and Ozbiliz converted a penalty kick earned by Sarkisov.
A day earlier, Armenia mostly fielded its second-tier players as it lost 0:2 to Serbia. According to ArmFootball.com, coach Vardan Minasyan made the unusual decision because several key players, including Ozbiliz and Movsisyan, arrived in Cyprus only hours before the Serbia match and he also wanted to test out the younger players.
Also expected to debut for the Armenia side in Cyprus was 20-year-old Norair Mamedov, who plays for another Dutch club FC Zwolle and is also of Armenian descent. But Mamedov told ArmFootball.com that while he appeciated the invitation he needed time to recover from injury and hopes to play for the national team another day.
Armenia's next friendly fixture is expected to be with Greece at the end of May.