Youthful exuberance sees Armenia transformed from minor players to major threat
Published 10/10/2011 | 05:00
ARMENIA have emerged from basement boys to play-off contenders in the space of a remarkable two years.
After finishing bottom of their World Cup group, Vardin Minasyan's side have grown up together into a formidable unit.
With the majority of his key players in their early 20s, this is only the start of the adventure for the former Soviet state.
They lack household names in their ranks, and the majority of their squad play their club football on the other side of Europe.
Nevertheless, there are some names to mark down with a view to the future.
In the short term, they will be giving Ireland headaches. But in the long term, they could be appearing on your television screens more frequently on a European stage.
Giovanni Trapattoni respects their ability, but refused to get too carried away in his praise either.
"They have good qualities," said the Ireland manager. "And they score goals. They like to shoot from distance, and they have a lot of confidence. Boom. Boom.
"However, I have trust that we can be superior and we have double marking on the pitch, which is important.
"We have played like this against important teams such as France, Italy and Croatia and we have to continue this. Armenia are not superior to some of the teams we have played against before like France. Our confidence lies in this."
On Saturday in Tallaght, Trapattoni was brandishing a sheet with the names of the Armenian squad. Here are the key men he will be looking out for:
The talented 22-year-old playmaker earned a big-money move to Ukrainian powerhouses Shakhtar Donetsk last year, and will be pulling the strings in midfield.
Mkhitaryan is a quick thinker who is also fond of shooting from distance.
He scored in both of his team's victories over Slovakia and unleashed a thunderbolt on Friday night to put the victory over Macedonia beyond doubt -- it finished 4-1.
A striker based in the Russian top flight with Krasnodar, Movsisyan grew up in America and was playing his club football in Denmark until his recent €2.5m move.
The 24-year-old made his international debut last year and his clever movement and instinctive finishing have marked him out as a danger man.
Movsisyan also hit the target in both wins over Slovakia -- crucially, he opened the scoring on each occasion.
Another player to be moved on from Armenia to the top flight in Ukraine.
Ghazaryan is another potent attacker with an ability to pop up in the right place at the right time.
Ghazaryan is joint top scorer with Mkhitaryan -- both have five goals in this campaign. He added the icing on the cake to the drubbings of Slovakia and Macedonia.
The 23-year-old plies his trade with Metalurh Donetsk.