| -1.3°C Dublin

Armenia boss turns up heat

GIOVANNI Trapattoni's players will escape the punishing heat of Armenia when they fly into Yerevan late tonight for the opening bout of the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

But according to Armenia's manager, they won't be able to escape the blistering pace of €7 million man Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a new signing for Champions League side Shakhtar Donetsk.

He has already tormented Irish football as he scored a hat-trick for the U21 side when they hammered Don Givens' Ireland team 4-1 last year, in the very stadium where Ireland take on Armenia on Friday evening (4pm).

The Irish squad, hit by the withdrawal of Damien Duff, Keith Andrews, Keith Treacy and Paul McShane on top of injury worries over Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and Liam Lawrence -- all likely to start here in Yerevan on Friday even though they have not started a league game between them this season -- boarded their plane for that punishing seven-hour flight to Armenia after training in Dublin this morning.

A late arrival in the city -- the squad are due in close to midnight local time -- means that the Irish players will have only tomorrow to acclimatise.

But the heat in Armenia this morning will be of concern to Ireland's squad, with temperatures over the 35 degree mark as the Armenian squad held the first of their two training sessions today behind closed doors at the 16,000 capacity match stadium.

"Perhaps the heat will be an advantage to us. Most of our players play for clubs in Armenia or Iran and they are well used to playing in high temperatures so that is in our favour," Armenia coach Vardan Minasyan told the Herald in Yerevan earlier today.

"Ireland have a big squad with players from big clubs in England and we don't have that, we have a very young team for this match. But we will prepare well and try to get a result, though we are missing two of our best players through injury."

A key man for Armenia on Friday will be striker Mkhitaryan, who is celebrating his move to Shakhtar from city rivals Metallurg Donetsk earlier this week, his €7m fee making him the most expensive player in the club's history.

"He's still young, he's only 21, but he has become our leader. He played for two years for Mettalurg and he has already moved up a level in terms of his game, and signing for Shakthar is a sign of how good he is. He is a very special talent.

"He scored three goals against Ireland's U21 team last year in a big win for us, maybe he can do the same again on Friday," added manager Minasyan.

Irish concerns centre on skipper Keane, who is facing a race to be ready for Friday's game. Keane, who is remaining at Tottenham, trained at Malahide with his right knee heavily strapped, before the team departed for Yerevan today.

Keane has vowed to prove his fitness ahead of the match.

However, there was bad news for defender McShane, ruled out of action for the tie with a hamstring strain.