Thursday 22 February 2018

Watch: Manchester United’s newest signing almost crushed Ireland’s Euro 2012 dreams

Henrikh Mkhitaryan lining out for Armenia at the Aviva Stadium on October 11, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Henrikh Mkhitaryan lining out for Armenia at the Aviva Stadium on October 11, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Tom Rooney

Long before garnering great acclaim as a dynamic playmaker with Borussia Dortmund, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the newest addition to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United project, did his utmost to scupper Ireland chances of progressing to Euro 2012.

For the first time in a considerable while, Manchester United are likely to be the envy of the vast majority of Europe’s top clubs.

After acquiring Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimović, they have now added Henrikh Mkhitaryan to their squad, as Jose Mourinho continues to rebuild the club in his own image. He has signed a four deal at Old Trafford with the option of an additional year.

The Armenian number 10 is the latest in a raft of star players to exit the German club of late after Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogen departed for Bayern Munich and Man City respectively.

Last season Mkhitaryan  contributed 18 goals and 15 assists as Thomas Tuchel’s side finished runners up in the Bundesliga, so his loss will be felt acutely. 

It was almost five years ago, however, since Mkhitaryan very nearly became infamous in annals of Irish soccer.

Under Giovanni Trapattoni, Ireland enjoyed a very respectable campaign in their bid to qualify for Poland and Ukraine, and going into the final group fixture they were on the cusp of a second place play off spot.

All they had to do was beat Armenia at the Aviva Stadium in what was a winner takes all showdown.

Ireland were just a point ahead of the visitors, who they had beaten 1-0 in the corresponding fixture thanks to Keith Fahey’s winner. Armenia arrived in Dublin on a brisk October night and the contest that followed proved a tempestuous affair.

Armenia goalkeeper Roman Berezovski was red carded in the first half for handling the ball outside his box and, on the stroke of half time, Valeri Aleksanyan turned the ball into his own net.

Richard Dunne added to Ireland’s tally just before the hour but within three minutes Mkhitaryan pulled one back with a powerful low drive, spurring Armenia attack to Ireland relentlessly.

Still playing for Shakhtar Donetsk, the then 22-year-old finished as the group's top goal scorer after finding the net six times, with Robbie Keane just one behind him.

The climax was made all the more nervy by Kevin Doyle’s dismissal for a second yellow card, but the Boys in Green dug in deep to hold on. Of course, they went on to secure qualification by comfortably beating Estonia in the playoff.

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