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Reborn Armenia hungry to stun Ireland

ARMENIA claims to be one of the oldest civilisations in Europe.

But tonight, the words which sum up this nation of three million come from the mouth of the manager of their national football team: youth, passion, energy, confidence.

You'd expect that when their manager is 37, only a boy when compared to Giovanni Trapattoni.

Their side is brimful of youth -- the team which hammered Macedonia 4-1 last week had four players aged 22, and eight of the side are 26 or younger.

"I believe this is a golden generation for our players," Vardan Minasyan said at last night's pre-match press conference in Dublin.

"This generation have more confidence, they are young but they have great desire, they want to achieve something in their lives as they have only started to play football and they want to get more from football.

"We have two main things: confidence and experience. We have a very young team but they are getting more experience, and they are also getting more confident."

Armenia coming to Dublin as genuine contenders to sneak a play-off spot at our expense was not to be expected. Not when the draw for these qualifiers was made, as Armenia finished bottom of their group in the last qualifying campaign (for the 2010 World Cup) and then began the new campaign just like they played in the previous one. Poorly, taking just one point from the first two games.

But the side has been reborn in recent games, a team boosted by the influx of talent from am exciting U21 side which destroyed Ireland 6-2 on aggregate in two Euro qualifiers over the space of five months in 2009-10.

Back in March 2010, the Armenian U21 team came to Dublin and swarmed past Ireland again with a 2-1 win, a result which -- finally -- caused the end of Don Givens' reign as U21 team boss. Lessons from that game for tonight, as those classy Armenians have progressed en bloc: of the U21 side which saw off Givens in Tallaght, eight of the team are in the Armenian senior squad for tonight (only one Irishman from that evening is involved with us, Seamus Coleman). Tonight's game is a big deal, not just in Yerevan but in Paris and San Diego and Boston and Melbourne and everywhere else that Armenians have found themselves.


The country from which sprang forth the ancestors of Youri Djorkaeff and (ahem) Kim Kardashian know what it would mean to their small nation to win a place in the play-offs, and with so many people of Armenian heritage in France, a play-off against the French in Paris would be something special.

Now all they have to do is win the game, something they feel they can do. Last night, coach Minasyan was asked if he was afraid of the pace in the Irish side and how he could combat it. "We don't just want to stop the Irish playing, we want to play as well," Minasyan says with a smile, his face letting the local media know that his side have not come to Dublin for the shopping and the sights.