Armenia

Հայաստան / Hayastan / Armenia

  • Capital: Yerevan / Երևան
  • Official Languages: Armenian
  • Nicknames: Հավաքական / Havaqakan (The Collective team); Ararat
  • Association: Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) / Հայաստանի Ֆուտբոլի Ֆեդերացիա
  • FIFA Code: ARM

Records

  • Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
  • Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
  • Best Euros Result (Men): Not Qualified
  • Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 30th (February 2014)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 83rd (October 2003)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 159th (July 1994)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 148th (September 2015)
  • Most Capped Player: Sargis Hovsepyan – 132 caps
  • Top Scorer: Henrikh Mkhitaryan – 30 goals [as of March 2021]

The Republic of Armenia (Հայաստանի Հանրապետություն / Hayastani Hanrapetut’yun) is a country located in the far southwestern corner of the UEFA confederation. Situated within the Caucasus region, it is bordered by Georgia to its north, Azerbaijan to the east, Turkey to its west and the AFC member of Iran to its south. Originally one the most southern soviet republics of the former Soviet Union, which produced a number of excellent players for the USSR team throughout the decades, the country gained its independence in 1991, with the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) becoming a member of FIFA in 1992 and UEFA the following year. They played their first official game in October 1992 against another former Soviet country, drawing 0-0 against Moldova in their capital of Yerevan.

In its near 20 years competing as an independent nation, the Havaqakan have yet to qualify for either a World Cup or a European Championships. The nearest they came to qualifying for a major tournament came during the Euro 2012 qualifying phase. Scoring the most goals out of everyone in the group (22 goals), they just needed to win their final game against the Republic of Ireland to earn themselves a playoff berth. Alas, in a controversial match in Dublin, they lost 2-1 to the hosts ensuring they finished in third position in the group and missed out on the playoffs. Sadly since then, they have not gotten as close as they did in the Euro 2012 qualifiers, and will not be competing in the upcoming European Championships either.

In the draw for the 2022 World Cup qualifying, they were regarded as the highest ranked side in ‘Pot 5’ and were placed in a very tough group, with Germany, Romania, Iceland, Macedonia and Liechtenstein the other members of their 6-team group. Despite the daunting nature of their World Cup qualifying group, there are some hopes for the future for the Armenian national team. They will be playing in the second tier of the next edition UEFA Nations League having earned promotion from their Division C group. Despite being the underdogs in a group containing Macedonia and Georgia, they secured promotion to Division B when they beat group favourites Macedonia 1-0 in their final game of the group to top the group with 11 points.

To talk about a team who have been massively affected by political issues this past year but seem to be putting together a national side who seem to have great potential and be very exciting within European football, we interviewed Aram and Armen from the excellent Football Kentron podcast. It is an English language podcast which is completely dedicated to all things involving Armenian football. To find their social media accounts and podcasts, follow the links below:

Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

ARAM: Player: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Henrikh is by far the biggest and best footballing export Armenia has produced. Even at 32 he is lighting up Serie A making Roma into title contenders overnight. He is the captain of the national team with 88 caps and 30 goals [at time of writing], making him the leading goalscorer for Armenia. He really made a name for himself and put Armenia on the map during his 3 years at Borussia Dortmund registering 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches across 4 competitions. He became the first Armenian to win a major European tournament when he scored and lifted the UEFA Europa League trophy with the Armenian flag around him in 2017. He has been named Armenian player of the year a record 10 times and is by far the most decorated Armenian player winning trophies in Armenia, Ukraine, Germany, and England.

Vardan Minasyan

Manager: Vardan Minasyan
Minasyan is best known for his second stint with Armenia, first as the caretaker in 2007, then named as manager in 2009. In his 39 matches in charge of the national team he won 14, drew 4 and lost 21. Despite these statistics, Armenia played their best ever football under Minasyan during the EURO 2012 qualifiers where Armenia finished 3rd in a group topped by Russia and followed by Ireland. Armenia finished with 17 points, scoring 22 goals and conceded 10 with a +12 goal difference. Armenia notably dismantled Slovakia 3-1 at home and 4-0 away. Armenia also recorded a 0-0 draw with Russia, but 2 close matches against the Republic of Ireland, and a very, very, very bad handball call from the referee sending Armenia’s keeper off in the crucial final match of the campaign saw Armenia finish 3rd. Minasyan had Armenia playing beautiful full frontal attacking football while finding a defensive balance. Minasyan would later take Armenian Premier League newcomers Ararat Armenia to the UEFA Europa League playoffs, somewhere an Armenian club has never been before, only to lose on penalties. He now resumed his managerial career with Taraz in Kazakhstan after a year long hiatus.

ARMEN: Agree with both

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?

Yura Movsisyan

ARAM: Yura Movsisyan – Yura is the perfect embodiment of what it means to be Armenian – fearless, confident, feisty and always wanting to succeed. Yura joined the national team after finding success with MLS side Real Salt Lake, winning the MLS Cup, and then earned a move to Danish giants Randers. He worked his way up to eventually play for Spartak Moscow, scoring a hat-trick on his debut. Every time Yura stepped out on the pitch for Armenia he game 110% and fans recognized that. During the very turbulent times of the national team, he was unfairly scapegoated by the Federation and the fans backed Yura every step of the way. No one will ever forget his last gasp winner against Bulgaria, his dominant performances versus Slovakia and his 4 goals in 1 match vs. Gibraltar.

Roman Berezovski

ARMEN: I would add Armenian born but ethnically Russian goalkeeper Roman Berezovski. Even if he’s only the 2nd most capped player in Armenian national team history after a former teammate at Zenit, full-back Sargis Hovsepyan – Berezovsky’s still admired and remembered as one of the most prolific players in our short history as a sovereign NT. His blonde hair, his leadership and his countless unbelievable saves helped our team get great results for an entire decade. The former Zenit and Dynamo Moscow goalie has been retired for 5 years, but he’s still the best goalkeeper we’ve had, and it looks like it’s gonna stay that way for a good 10 years at least.

Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Armenia currently?

Tigran Barseghyan

ARAM: This is a tricky one because our team has had recent successes without our best player, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Due to COVID and a plethora of injuries, manager Joaquín Caparrós (formerly of Sevilla and Bilbao in Spain) is forced to make many changes every match. The most recent standout performer has to be Tigran Barseghyan. Far from a household name, Barseghyan finished the 2020 UEFA Nations League campaign with 1 goal and 4 assists, making him the leading assist man in the entire Nations League. Barseghyan is a winger and applies his trade for Astana in Kazakhstan. At 27, Tigran made himself indispensable for club and country, leading Astana to a league title and Armenia promotion in the Nations League.

Varazdat Haroyan

ARMEN: Although Barseghyan has been by far the best performer in offense for a solid 2 years now, it’s often the players that do the silent work that need highlighting. Star centre-back and vice-captain (although he’s clearly the team leader, but not given the armband for marketing purposes) Varazdat Haroyan is also a team standout – coincidentally he just signed for Kazakh multichampions Astana, where he’ll share squads with Barseghyan. With Armenia undergoing a defensive revival at the hands of Caparros, we’ve seen Anorthosis Famagusta’s versatile defender Hovhannes Hambardzumyan rise as an undisputed starter and new team leader, which paid off on the last game of 2020 versus Macedonia, where the 30 year old scored the winner that crowned Armenia as group winners and promoted us to UEFA Division B. Also, debutant goalkeeper David Yurchenko was insanely essential during the last campaign and so will be for the next 2 years. With a decent career in the Russian Premier League, the 34 year old will also bring in much needed experience and council to our young goalies.

Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?

Joaquín Caparrós

ARAM: Promising. Armenia topped the UEFA Nations League Group C2 which included North Macedonia, Georgia and Estonia. Macedonia and Georgia both won their previous Nations League groups and this group was looking the most challenging from all. New manager Joaquín Caparrós, who formerly managed Sevilla and Bilbao to great success, took over Armenia after former Spain and current Armenian technical director Ginez Melendez convinced him to take the project. Caparrós has taken charge of Armenia for 6 matches so far, all competitive, winning 3, drawing 2, and losing 1, the opening match against Macedonia 2-1. Caparros has since revived the identity of the team and began to play with a purpose, to win. Armenia looks forward to an extremely tight World Cup qualifying group that includes Germany, Iceland, Romania, North Macedonia, and Liechtenstein. Armenians are very hopeful that Caparrós, with the new instilled confidence into the team, can lead Armenia to their first ever major tournament. For the first time in March, he will have the full roster of Armenian players to choose from, a luxury he did not have in the Nations League. We truly believe Armenia can compete with Iceland, Romania and Macedonia for the second spot.

ARMEN: Mostly agree. Very promising. Unprecedented level of depth, potential, and strategic projects both on and off the pitch. Specifically noticing defensive order and tactics which were just lacking until Caparrós hopped on board. They still have room for improvement, and possibly an upset or two from time to time, but definitely looking up.

Q. Are there any Armenian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?

Vahan Bichakhchyan

ARAM: Vahan Bichakhchyan – If you listen to our podcast, we talk about this kid every opportunity we get. Vahan is a 21 year old attacking midfielder from Gyumri, Armenia, formerly of Shirak, and now plays for MŠK Žilina in Slovakia. Vahan had offers from England, Italy, and Russia, but chose to move to Slovakia in search of consistent first team game time at a young age. He broke through to the first team and hasn’t looked back. Since then he can’t stop scoring for his club side and has made his senior national team debut in the Nations League, coming off the bench in 5 of the 6 matches, and registering the group winning assist. Vahan is heavily thought to be a world football talent despite flying under the radar. He shares the same agent as Napoli legend Marik Hamšík, so many believe he will be in the Serie A this summer.

Eduard Spertsyan

ARMEN: Agree, and I’d also add Eduard Spertsyan – 20 year old playmaker (CM/CAM) from Krasnodar. The Russian born Armenian is set to make his Armenian NT debut on March, which is why he’s been frozen out of the senior squad – with Russia and Ukraine having a record of pressuring Armenian players (or from other minorities) that express desire to represent their ancestral homeland’s national teams. Eduard would then be the youngest ever Armenia national team footballer to have played UEFA Champions League group stages at only 20 years old and 4 months (leaving Mkhitaryan at 2nd best when he made his debut with Shakhtar at 21 years, 8 months old). Spertsyan’s contract expires in July 2021, so the big teams from all over may be looking to bid for him soon.

Q. Looking at Armenia’s relatively short international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?

ARAM: Result – Armenia 4-0 Denmark away in June 2013. From the first whistle Armenia hit the ground running and absolutely rocked Denmark. The then Armenia squad boasted the likes of a young Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aras Ozbiliz, and Yura Movsisysan, our most deadly attacking threat to date. Ozbiliz struck from distance very early on to lead 1-0 and the goals flowed from there through flawless counterattacking. Could have easily been 6 or 7 goals if Armenia had been more clinical.

Performance – Armenia 1-0 North Macedonia. In what was the final showdown to win the group and gain promotion to League B, Armenia were without several regulars, including Mkhitaryan, Sargis Adamyan, Andre Calisir, and Khoren Baryramyan. Hit with injuries and COVID, the Armenia squad, who has only played 1 match at home during the entire competition because of an ongoing war with neighbors Azerbaijan, played the most organized, defensive, team oriented, match Armenia has ever seen. Knowing the emotional toll of the war, the physical toll of illness, injury and travel, the players really banded together and performed like true professionals. A well taken goal from fullback Hovhannes Hambardzumyan in the second half was the difference maker.

ARMEN: Agree about the Denmark win, and I’d also add the 2-1 win versus Georgia in 2020 for UEFA Nations League. For several reasons.

  • Geopolitical/historical (off the pitch) context: Armenia has been at war with Turkey and Azerbaijan, whilst Georgia joined them by blocking all air trafic to and from Armenia, including HUMANITARIAN AID for the entire time the war lasted – in exchange for part of the bounty of war. Aside from being a regional derby and usually not having the best relations, this time Armenia had extra motive to beat the northern neighbors.
  • UNL group table context: With only that derby and another game left, the table was extremely tied between these two nations and Macedonia. So it was basically a head to head fight to stay alive in the battle for the top.
  • Team performance: Armenia absolutely dominated the full 90 minutes. Clever, clinical, classy play from the Caparros crew from the first minute to the last.
  • Unfair calls: So much so, that Georgia’s temporary equalizer came from a non-existent penalty foul called on Arman Hovhannisyan. Neutral commentators from all over agree – it was actually a foul by the Georgian attacker. Even despite all of this, Armenia kept its cool and confidence (which we hardly ever used to).
Sargis Adamyan
  • Final score: In the final minutes, Hoffenheim striker Sargis Adamyan found the back of the net after a great collective play – in a particularly irregular year for him, where he would come from an unbelievable Bundesliga season where among other unprecedented records he led Hoffenheim to their first away win at Allianz Arena with a brace to beat Bayern by 2-1, then seeing his wife suffer a miscarriage, and lastly falling out of favour with new Hoffenheim coach Sebastian Hoeneß. Considering all of these things, seeing Sako smile was more than enough – but considering he may’ve well arguably scored the single most important goal in Armenian national team history… That was just divine intervention.

Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?

ARAM: Italy 9-1 Armenia. In our final Euro 2020 qualifying match, after the managerial merry-go-round, short of any true leadership, amidst a corruption scandal, and off the back of a political revolution in the country, Armenia hit rock bottom footballing wise. The result was not only a poor performance from the players and poor management from the coaching staff, but a cumulation of years of mismanagement and embezzlement from the football federation. Since then the leadership has changed dramatically, a solid plan has been set in motion and we have a new manager who is instilling the missing confidence Armenia lost for several years. Following the embarrassing defeat and the overhaul, Armenia immediately bounced back by winning the Nations League group.

ARMEN: Fully agree. In fact, that’s when Varazdat Haroyan’s role as the true team leader came to manifestation. Former national team coach Abraham Khashmanyan (sort of the ‘Armenian Mourinho‘, really spicy and controversial, strategist, tries out the riskiest things which lead to either genius results or catastrophic failures) publicly shamed his players and called them amateur among other more insulting words – to whom Haroyan responded publicly with a lesson on teamwork, humility, and integrity.

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Armenian national team?

ARAM: Best Thing – Armenia is never boring. Whether it is a closer than it should be home match versus Estonia or a 6 goal thriller against Bosnia, Armenia never disappoints in getting the heart pumping. Unlike supporting a large club or well-known country, Armenia is a mixed bag and that is what makes football fun. Armenia plays an exciting counter attacking style of football that will always leave you off your seat.

Worst Thing – Winning is not a habit, yet. Armenia doesn’t always win and the winning mentality that used to be present in the squad doesn’t look like it is there anymore. However, some of the recent additions are bringing back the attitude, Movsisyan-esque, complex on the pitch. The younger players that are breaking into the team, the likes of Koryan and Bichakhchyan, want to win every single game and won’t take no for an answer.

ARMEN: Pretty much agree. The best is that it’s what love probably feels like. You support no matter what. Having arguably endured one of the harshest national realities throughout history and still standing proud and with honour, having a national team that barely has over 25 years of official existence and see it play UEFA Division B, there’s quite nothing as pure and beautiful as being Armenian – no matter the result, being constructively critical of what needs to change and embracing the good aspects of it, everything. Worst should be that we’re still minnows and can’t fully exploit Armenian football talents from home and abroad – our diaspora is the perfect picture of how we’ve come to create something so beautiful out of the darkest sort of thing (a “genocide”, or massive ethnic cleansing)

Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?

ARMEN: Yes. 2 of them, actually. The first and older one is from a very well known classic football chant which I can’t recall the name, but the lyrics basically say “Armenians, (x4 more times), we are strong, we are fierce, we are gonna win tonight. Olé, Olé Olé…

The second and newer song takes over the music of “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In” – with the lyrics going roughly along the lines of “Oh, Armenia, today you’ll win – you’ll fly the tricolour (in reference to our flag) up high.

Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?

ARAM: The 2011 home Hummel shirt. The shirt featured the Armenian coat of arms with the iconic Hummel arrows going down the sleeves. This was the shirt Armenia wore in the very successful EURO 2012 qualifying campaign. The shirt will always be linked with goals galore and the drive to win.

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Armenian national team?

ARAM: Qualifying for a major tournament. Even if Armenia fails to qualify for Qatar 2022, getting close will put us one step closer to our goal. Armenia is experiencing a footballing renaissance, with the domestic league becoming exponentially better in the past 2 seasons, and the national team showing promise by winning the Nations League group. Qualification for Qatar 2022 or EURO 2024 is the goal, and we are confident Armenia will reach that goal as long as we are patient in the work of Joaquín Caparrós.

A massive շատ շնորհակալություն to Aram and Armen from Football Kentron for answering our questions on the Havaqakan. Remember you can find their excellent podcast and social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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