Armenia’s much-anticipated World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign got underway on a positive note on Fri., Sept 7, successfully recording a 1:0 away victory over Malta at the Ta’Qali National Stadium.
Armenia was without the services of regular goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky and talismanic attacking midfielder Gevorg Ghazaryan, but nonetheless they deservedly secured the three points and avoided a slip-up away from home against a team that is expected to prop up the group.
Super sub Artur Sarkisov, who has made a habit of coming off of the bench to score important goals, was yet again on the mark for Armenia. After good hold up play, Yura Movsisyan spun his defender and beat him to the byline before cutting the ball back to Sarkisov, who successfully steered the cross to the net with a first time shot from 6 yards.
The result was no more than Armenia deserved, as they dominated possession and chances against a spirited Maltese side. Securing the 3 points sees Armenia top Group 2 with 3 points after Bulgaria and Italy played out a 2:2 draw at the Vassil Levski Stadium in Sofia.
Next up for Armenia is a difficult assignment away to Bulgaria. Bulgaria earned a point against group favorites Italy in their home-opener today, and will prove stiff opposition for Armenia. Maintaining a solid rear guard while staying true to their dangerous counter-attacking style, Armenia should enter the fixture in buoyant mood knowing that securing another away-victory will provide the team with ample confidence returning home to play the Italians in Yerevan next month.
During the opening 2- minutes Armenia was limited to snapshots from the edge of the area or wayward long-range efforts. The first clear-cut chance fell to Levon Hayrapetyan. A low cross from the right wing from Aras Özbiliz found its way to the back post. Hayrapetyan chipped a ball back towards goal from a tight angle only to see it go across the goal mouth and tail wide of the mark.
After 25 minutes, Malta’s industrious winger Daniel Bogdanovic ventured down the right wing and attempted a cross. The cross was deflected dangerously and looped into the air, rooting goalkeeper Gevorg Kasparov to the spot. Lucky for him and Armenia, the ball looped over the bar and away from danger, landing on top of the net.
At the 30-minute mark Marcos Pizzelli was unlucky not the break the deadlock. Movsisyan slipped Pizzelli the ball in the left channel, and he turned and rifled a powerful shot off the left upright. The ball cannoned off of the bar and ricocheted onto the leaping Andrew Hogg in the Maltese net. The ball bounced a yard from goal and looked to be spinning into the net before Alex Muscat made a terrific clearance.
Armenia succeeded in crafting another opening as the half drew to a close. This time Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a ball poked away from him in the box while Malta also found some dangerous positions in the closing moments of the half, having a penalty shout waved away by referee Rene Eisner when Hrayr Mkoyan maintained excellent position on Michael Mifsud to quell a half chance in the box.
With Armenia maintaining the upper hand, the sides entered the break on level terms. In the early stages of the second half, some indecisive Armenian play at the back led to a couple of half chances for Malta, but the defense ultimately held firm. Armenia continued probing for the elusive opening goal.
Entering the game after 64 minutes, Artur Sarkisov took little time in making his impact on proceedings. Five minutes after his introduction, Sarkisov made a darting run to the near post to meet a driven Movsisyan cross from the byline. His deft touch on the ball angled the shot past the keeper and the all-important opening goal was on the board.
Armenia was comfortable at this stage and was unlucky not to build on the lead. A terrific training ground free-kick routine almost saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan add to his international goal tally. Aras Özbiliz disguised his delivery brilliantly, cutting the ball to the penalty spot for Mkhitaryan as everyone else had crashed the net. Andrew Hogg in the Malta goal saved brilliantly to his left.
Late on, Mkhitaryan’s fitness and class was yet again on display as he ran down a bouncing ball at the edge of the box before crafting a shot on his left that Hogg was yet again a match for.
One valuable away-win is now in the bag, but the week’s work is not yet done as another is up for grabs. The focus must be maintained ahead of the match-up in Sofia next Tues., Sept 11. Playing for another victory is the order of the day against Bulgaria, but should be achieved by setting up defensively sound before turning on the attacking flair.
The campaign will no doubt have many twists and turns, especially with a group full of teams capable of taking points from each other. Today’s result between Bulgaria and Italy is the first proof of that. The long road to Brazil has finally begun.
Armenia: G. Kasparov, S. Hovsepyan (YC), R. Arzumanyan (V. Aleksanyan 79’), Artak Edigaryan (D. Manoyan 52’), H. Mkoyan (YC), K. Mkrtchyan, H. Mkhitaryan, L. Hayrapetyan, M. Pizzelli (A. Sarkisov 64’), A, Özbiliz, Y. Movsisyan
Coach: V. Minasyan