On May 31, it’s Armenian offense vs. Greek defense
Published: Wednesday May 30, 2012
Seattle, WA - Following their strong performance in the Euro-2012 qualification campaign, public expectations remain high for the Armenian national football team. These expectations now face the first serious test this year - a friendly match with 2004 European champions Greece, a team that is both very stingy on defense and low-scoring on offense.
The match will be played in Kufstein in western Austria in the vicinity of Munich that on May 19 played host to the biggest game in European club football - the Champions' League final that G8 leaders were caught watching as they took a break from discussing the Greek economic crisis.
While the Armenia-Greece friendly may not be as consequential, facing Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic and Bulgaria in World Cup qualification campaign that begins in September, Armenia must be able to beat strong teams like Greece to have a shot at going to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
Greek footballers will be in Austria in preparation for the Euro 2012 that kicks off June 8. The Greeks ranked 14th in the world are playing back to back games with two teams that almost made it to the Euro - 28th ranked Slovenia on May 26 (that match ended in 1-1 tie) and 47th ranked Armenia on May 31.
Armenian players will then return to Yerevan for June 5 friendly with 137th ranked Kazakhstan.
Greeks qualified for Euro-2012 after winning seven matches and drawing three - at home against Georgia and away against Latvia and Croatia. In ten matches its defense allowed just five goals. The Hellenes scored 14 goals, four of them against Malta and three each against Georgia and Israel.
In contrast, in its qualification campaign Armenia won five, drew two and lost three games, allowing 10 and scoring 22 goals. Most of Armenia's goals went against Andorra (7), Slovakia (7) and Macedonia (6).
While it was undefeated in qualification matches, Greece's record in friendlies is less stellar. In fact, Greece has not won a friendly match since they beat Canada 1-0 in February 2011. Last November, Greece lost to Romania 1-3 and tied Russia 1-1 and last February they drew Belgium 1-1.
Armenia played two friendlies earlier this year - its B team lost to Serbia 0-2 as the A team dominated Canada 3-1.
Armenia and Greece last played a friendly on June 1, 2008 in Germany. That match was evenly fought and ended in a goalless draw.
Offensive line in good shape
Most of Armenia's main players will be in Kufstein and a number of them are coming following outstanding seasons for their clubs.
For the second year in the row, Henrikh Mkhitaryan's Shakhter-Donetsk won the Ukrainian championship and the Cup of Ukraine. Mkhitaryan himself, playing both as attacking and defending midfielder, scored 11 goals in 36 appearances for his club that included Champions' league matches against top European teams.
Also in Ukraine, winger Gevorg Ghazaryan and defensive midfielder Karlen Mkrtchyan have established themselves as key players for Metallurg-Donetsk that finished seventh in the championship and as Cup of Ukraine finalist will next year play in the Europa League.
Marcos Pizzelli, who plays second striker, had made a move from Metallurg-Donetsk, where he scored four times in 18 matches to Kuban-Krasnodar in Russia, scoring three goals in 10 matches. Kuban finished eighth in the Russian championship.
In 37 matches for FC Krasnodar, Armenia's striker Yura Movsisyan managed 14 goals, five of which came from penalty kicks. FC Krasnodar was ninth in the Russian championship and Movsisyan ended the season as fourth top goal-scorer in the Russian Premier League.
Missing the match with Greece will be Armenia's most recent recruit Aras Ozbiliz who plays for Dutch champions Ajax Amsterdam and made his debut for Armenia against Canada. Ozbiliz is recovering from surgery and is expected to re-join Armenia before the World Cup qualification campaign in September.
Not making the roster is the winger Edgar Manucharyan, a former Ajax player now with Ural-Yekatirinburg in Russia's second-tier division, where this spring he scored six times in twelve appearances even though he continue to be hobbled by past injuries.
Manucharyan was among several Armenian footballers whose performance was publicly chastised by the head of Armenian football federation Ruben Hairapetyan earlier this year; but Manucharyan's non-appearance is reportedly due to upcoming surgery.
Problems on defense
Goalkeeper Grigor Meliksetyan who plays in Iran and who tended Armenia's goal in the friendly against Serbia was effectively blacklisted by Hairapetyan, even though Armenia's goalkeeper options remain few. Also out is the young Arsen Petrosyan who stepped in for Roman Berezovsky in the ill-fated match against Ireland last fall and was just released by Pyunik Yerevan.
Instead, Gevorg Kasparov has returned as Armenia's reserve goalkeeper. Now 31, Kasparov, made 18 appearances for the national team (including the 2008 friendly with Greece); he previously played in the Iranian championship and now plays for Armenian side Mika Yerevan. He stayed off the national team roster for the last couple of years.
Armenia's main goalkeeper Berezovsky was recruited by Dinamo Moscow club earlier this year, but then benched after just three appearances. Also lacking in field experience have been defenders Hrair Mkoyan of Russia's Spartak Nalchik and Robert Arzumanian of Poland's Jagiellonia Bialystok.
The friendly match with Greece will be an important measure of these players' readiness.
Also called up have been half a dozen mostly young players from Pyunik Yerevan, a club sponsored by Hairapetyan. With the exception of Kasparov, there is a notable absence of players from other Armenian teams, including last year's national champions Ulisses-Yerevan, last two years' runners up Gandzasar Kapan and Banants Yerevan or Armenia cup winner Shirak Gyumri.