The mountains of the south Caucasus region of Europe provide the backdrop to a country that is flourishing in world football after several decades recovering from devastating domestic conflicts. Armenia’s record in the game is far from being impressive and there was little to write home about over the last 20 years. During the Soviet Union period however, a club side named FC Ararat Yerevan stood up against the Moscow giants and Dynamo Kyiv, and against all odds claimed the Soviet Top League in 1973 and then reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup the following year.
Over the last five to six years, Armenian football has experienced notable improvements. Training facilities in the country have been upgraded and a new approach has been adopted towards the game by the Armenian authorities. And already progress is clear to see, with a notable campaign having been fought to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. 13 points from ten games may have seen the side finish fifth in their group, but they were just three points off second-placed Denmark, two off third-placed Czech Republic and level on points with fourth-placed Bulgaria.
Much of the credit must go to coach Vardan Minasyan, who exited his post after a qualifying campaign which saw the country in the mix to reach the group’s playoff place until the final match against Italy. The game in the Azzurri’s backyard ended as a 2-2 draw and Minasyan signed off with the team 38th in the FIFA world rankings, their highest ever spot.
When Minasyan resigned, at first the Armenian Football Federation refused his resignation and tried to convince the 39-year-old to stay longer to prepare the team for Euro 2016 qualifying. Nevertheless, Minasyan had made his choice and departed, his exit marking the end of a significant chapter of Armenian football. He has yet to be replaced, but the federation may well opt for a foreign coach to continue Minasyan’s work.
Armenia boast an interesting generation of quality players at present. Stars such as Borussia Dortmund midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan and Spartak Moscow forward Yura Movsisyan stand out, but there are other promising talents emerging: Another Spartak Moscow man in midfielder Aras Ozbiliz, Anzhi Makhachkala schemer Karlen Mkrtchyan and Roeselare talent Masis Voskanyan.
Presently Mkhitaryan is carrying the flag for Armenian football in Europe, proving himself at Borussia Dortmund. The former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder is sure to be crucial to the team’s qualifying campaign for Euro 2016. Yet despite the success of Mkhitaryan it would be wrong to see Armenia as a one-man-band, with a creative midfield supporting him which creates a whole host of chances for the target man up front, Movsisyan.
Armenian Football Federation chief Ruben Hayrapetyan is ambitious for his country and recently explained that he is aiming to do his upmost to win the right for the nation’s capital Yerevan to host games in Euro 2020, which is to be held across Europe. Football in Armenia is developing quickly and, due to their recent achievements, the country are the best ranked out of all the former Soviet republics, aside from Russia and the Ukraine. Europe has certainly not heard the last of Armenia.