Soccer Win Sparks Jubilant Scenes in Yerevan

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By Elina Chilingarian

YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Hundreds of people poured into Republic Square on Tuesday, September 7, to celebrate yet another impressive victory of Armenia’s national soccer team that gave it a real chance of qualifying for the 2012 European Football Championship.

Armenia crushed Slovakia 4-0 in the Slovak city of Zilina to earn its fourth victory in eight matches played in Group B of Euro 2012 qualifying over the past year. It was also the team’s most convincing and important away win to date.

Vartan Minasian, the team’s 37-year-old coach, hailed the “fantastic” performance of his players, mostly aged under 24, against a nominally stronger side that did well in last year’s World Cup. “I am very proud of my team,” Minasian said at a news conference.

The shock win moved up the Armenians to third place in the group standings with 14 points, three behind leaders Russia, who drew zero-zero with Ireland in Moscow earlier on Tuesday. Ireland, which is second on 15 points, will host Armenia in Dublin on October 11 for the final and possibly decisive game of the qualifying campaign.

Armenia already beat Slovakia 3-1 in Yerevan last October, an unexpected result that marked the beginning of its best-ever performance in Euro and World Cup qualifiers.

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The victory sparked jubilant overnight scenes in the capital, with hundreds of fans converging on Republic Square to wave national flags, chant “Armenia!” and dance. Scores of cars honking their horns circled the sprawling square in the meantime.

The ecstatic crowd was reportedly joined and praised by Ruben Hayrapetian, chairman of the Armenian Football Federation, in the early hours of Wednesday.

“This impressive victory wasn’t sensational but the score was,” Slava Sargsian, a veteran football commentator, said.

“It was a fantastic game,” agreed Senik Karapoghosian, another commentator. “In my view, the second half [of the Slovakia game] was the best 45 minutes of play in the [post-Soviet] history of Armenian football.”

The success will further heighten expectations from the national team ahead of its last two qualifiers. Armenia will play Macedonia in Yerevan on October 7.

Yura Movsisyan netted in the 57th minute after the Slovak defense failed to clear a corner kick for his fourth international goal. Henrik Mkhitaryan added the second with a low, longrange shot in the 70th that took Slovak goalkeeper Jan Mucha by surprise.

Gevorg Ghazaryan scored 10 minutes before the end and substitute Artur Sarkisov finished the Slovaks off in injury time.

With two more games to play, Slovakia is fourth in Group B with 14 points. Armenia is third, also on 14 and three behind leader Russia. Ireland is second on 15 points.

The members of the Armenian team are: Roman Berezovsky, Sargis Hovsepyan, Karlen Mkrtchyan, Artur Edigaryan (Artur Yuspashyan, 90), Marcos Pizzelli (Edgar Manucharyan, 73), Gevorg Ghazaryan, Yura Movsisyan (Artur Sarkisov, 85), Hrayr Mkoyan, Valeri Aleksanyan, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Levon Hayrapetyan.

(AP contributed to this story.)