Armenia Loses Euro 2016 Opener Away to Denmark

Special for the Armenian Weekly

Armenia stumbled out of the blocks again and lost their start to the European Championship 2016 against Denmark in the Parken Arena in Copenhagen on Sunday, September 7th, with a 2-1 result. Henrikh Mkhitaryan had given Armenia an unlikely lead after 50 minutes, creating an opening at the edge of the box before a left-footed shot was shot past an unfortunate Kasper Schmeichel in the Danish goal. However, this great self-made effort was not enough to secure the points. Armenia equalized after 65 minutes against the young star of FC Bayern Munich, Pierre Højbjerg, and fell back after a good change with a header from Thomas Kahlenberg just under ten minutes before the end.

Ghazaryan, Mkhitaryan and Airapetian, immediately after Mkhitaryan gave Armenia the lead during the September 7 game against Denmark.Ghazaryan, Mkhitaryan and Airapetian, immediately after Mkhitaryan gave Armenia the lead during the September 7 game against Denmark.

Preparing for this game was full of last-minute experimentation and tinkering as Bernard Challandes looked for tactical solutions with a group of players decimated by injuries. The friendly match between Armenia and Latvia, which took place in Riga on Wednesday 3rd September, would be the last opportunity to experiment. Yura Movsisyan, Aras Özbiliz, Karlen Mkrtchyan and Robert Arzumanyan were just a few of the main actors who were either absent or recovering from injury or illness. The case of Mauro Guevgeozian was somewhat different. Ultimately, it would not be available due to the lack of logistics. This was a known issue for Mauro, who again failed to reach an agreement with the FFA to return from his club in Peru for a first competitive game.

With such restrictions, Challandes decided for the first time to field his team with three center-backs and two full-backs against Latvia. Although the game ended in a 2-0 defeat, the new formation showed enough promise to warrant a similar setup in the competitive Copenhagen arena a few days later. Overall, the result in Latvia did not reflect Armenia’s game that night. Armenia were undone by two goals from Latvian striker Šabala but showed some good passages despite not having the finishing touches in front of goal. With three attacking Ghazaryan on the left, Manucharyan on the right and Mkhitaryan in the middle, numerous opportunities were created. Although none were taken, enough of the attacking three were seen, along with Hovsepyan and Yedigaryan marching the center of the park behind them to build confidence in the new formation ahead of the game in Denmark.

In Denmark the goal was to reluctantly give the lion’s share of possession against a better team with a similar formation, absorb the pressure that followed, score a goal at break and ride their luck to the final whistle. Unfortunately for Armenia, the script did not end as planned, but the efforts of the players in the adverse conditions caused by injuries were commendable.

While the game’s stats haven’t been read well (Denmark has an overall ownership of 64 percent, 48 dangerous attacks against the 17 in Armenia, and 18 attempts to score against the seven in Armenia), there have been notable past performances that have followed a similar pattern . There have been games where the defensive side prevailed by performing the ultimate smash-and-grab act against an opponent who was dominant in possession. The most notable of these historic feats were Chelsea’s loss to Barcelona in a 2012 Champions League semi-final, in which Barcelona had 72 percent possession, and Switzerland’s loss to Spain in the 2010 World Cup, when Spain had 67 percent possession.

When Mkhitaryan scored a goal early in the second half after Armenia cut Denmark to half the chances in the first half, the stage was set for Armenia to emulate the brave, disciplined performances mentioned above. And these are the best adjectives to describe such defense tactics. They invite incessant pressure. They grant a territorial advantage and rely heavily on the player’s discipline of form and decision-making – especially when you selectively pick moments to counter an attack. For 65 minutes the plan went great, but the withdrawal of Mkhitaryan and Arzumanyan from the bout put pressure on the remaining Armenian players. Mkhitaryan’s ability to hold the ball, foul, relieve pressure and create the odd chance out of nowhere was gone. Robert Arzumanyan’s leadership and organizational skills at the defense center were also a major loss as he too failed to complete 90 minutes.

The equalizer came from a long throw-in, which was only half cleared. A few Armenian defenders have crossed their wires and ended up getting each other’s way. The young Højbjerg was there to bury the loose ball from the edge of the penalty area. When the game went on and the physical demands on the defense showed cracks in the armor throughout the game, substitute Kahlenberg headed the starting goal home. Kahlenberg passed a ball to Bendtner on the far left and shot into the penalty area. Artur Yedigaryan was caught watching the ball and could not watch the run until it was too late. The floating flank was hit in front of the goal and thus rewarded an achievement that had gone more or less according to plan.

Challandes’ final roll of the dice was the introduction of Artak Dashyan in advance for Edgar Manucharyan, whose game was generally ineffective. It wasn’t enough. When the time ran out, Marcos Pizzelli missed a good opportunity to get the ball into the Danish penalty area from a free kick on the left flank. He couldn’t beat the first man with his feeble exertion – a lack of quality and focus when it came was needed most. So Denmark finally crossed the line with a 2-1 win after fifteen minutes of pondering the worst in the second half.

The defeat will particularly disappoint Armenia, especially after taking the lead against the game and seemingly overcoming the numerous injuries suffered by the key players by starting a new 3-4-3 formation and adopting a decidedly defensive stance. Losing all three points away to number two in the group may not mean a catastrophe for Armenia. However, given Albania’s surprising 1-0 defeat by Portugal in Lisbon, it is clear that seeding and ranking can be thrown out of the window in Group I as all teams have the ability to win and ripple the feathers of the so-called European elite.

Next up for Armenia is a game against Serbia in Yerevan on Saturday October 11th, a team with many highly acclaimed people playing in some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Serbia will face many challenges for Armenia. In particular, their strength on the flanks must be overcome by dynamic wingbacks as well as their standard situations if Armenia is to survive in a tie and get its campaign on course. Aleksander Kolarov poses a dangerous free-kick threat and equalized Serbia in a 1-1 draw with hosts France, a game also played on 7 September. Branoslav Ivanovic is always a threat from the air. and this has to be counteracted by strict man marking and defensive leadership by experienced players like Robert Arzumanyan and Roman Berezovsky, whose importance should not be underestimated. Armenia have conceded at least two goals per game in the last seven games, going back to the end of last World Cup season. Along with injuries, this is the most worrying trend – a trend that hopefully can be reversed by next month.

The health of the squad for Serbia’s visit to Yerevan should be in better shape than it was this last round. Yura Movsisyan is expected to return to the game for his club Spartak Moscow at the end of September and will quickly get back into shape after a knee problem. After beating Serbia, Armenia will play their first international match of the season and France will welcome France to Yerevan on Tuesday 14 October.

Armenia:

Berezovsky, Arzumanyan (66 ‘Voskanyan), Mkoyan, Airapetian, Haroyan, Mkhitaryan (71’ Pizzelli), Ghazaryan, Yedigaryan (YC), Hovhannisyan, Hovsepyan, Manucharyan (84 ‘Dashyan)

Coach: Challandes

Denmark:

Schmeichel, Bjelland, Kjær (57 ‘Okore), Ankersen, Boilesen, Eriksen, Krohn-Dehli, Højbjerg (YC), Schöne (56’ Vibe), Kvist (74 ‘Kahlenberg), Bendtner

Trainer: Olsen

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Michael Graham is the football correspondent for the Armenian Weekly. Graham was born and raised in Limerick, Ireland. He graduated from the University of Limerick with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Graham, who is passionate about soccer, plays in and manages local adult soccer leagues in Massachusetts. He holds a US adult amateur coaching license. Follow him on Twitter (@mjlgraham).

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