Just over a year ago, the qualifications for the 2012 European Cup began, and since then we have had plenty of surprises but none bigger than the small nation of Armenia. A nation that has so much history, so much culture has the opportunity to make history by making it to the final stages of qualification to the EuroCup, a two-legged home-and-home playoffs.
All that stands in their way is Shay Given and the Republic of Ireland national team. It is only fitting that the last game in Group B is between the same two sides that started the qualifications back in September of 2010. That was a fixture which saw the visiting Irish side come away victors by a score of one goal to nil.
A lot has changed since that opening day, which also saw Slovakia defeat Macedonia 1-0 and Russia win 2-0 in Andorra. Armenia, a nation whose best previous finish was fourth place in a group of five, has went from being minnows in competition to the highest scoring team in the group (21 goals) while the Irish and Russians, who were thought to be the clear-cut qualifiers, have had to work for nearly every point they have received.
Led by their young coach, Vardan Minasyan, and star forward, Yura Movsisyan, the Armenian side has went from trying to build for the future to making noise right away.
"Before this qualifying campaign began we never set the goal of reaching the European Championships," said Minasyan. "It was more important for us to build a strong team with a bright future. We are doing it our way, calmly and confidently. Yet, if we are to complete the building of this team, we need victory in Dublin."
The keys to coming away with a victory in Dublin reside in the hands of the team continuing to do what they do best and that is to attack. In the past three games, the side has scored on 11 occasions while just conceding one time. Henrik Mkhitaryan, of Shaktar Donetsk in Ukraine, and Gevorg Ghazaryan (Metalurh Donetsk in Ukraine) are personally responsible for three of those goals while Marcos Pizzelli (Metalurh Donetsk) and Artur Sarkisov (Shinik Yaroslavi in Russia) have two with Movsisyan (Kransdor in Russia) has the last tally. Defender Robert Arzumanyan (Jagiellonia Bialystok of Poland) will miss the match due to injury.
On the flip side, the Irish are coming off a 2-0 victory in Andorra and haven't conceded a goal since March 26th against Macedonia, a streak of four games and over 400 minutes. They have been spectacular throughout the qualifications in only conceding six goals while scoring 13, good for second highest in the group behind only their next opponents.
The Irish will also be at home, which could help them out and they only need to sit back and play for a draw and they will make the playoff leg, though they can still win the group if they were to defeat Armenia and Russia were to lose to Andorra, which is looking really unlikely as Andorra have only three victories in their nation's history, and have scored just once during these stages.
Despite those two things to look forward to, the Irish will be without Robbie Keane, the team captain and the highest scorer in the nation's history. Simon Cox will be the replacement in the starting eleven. Along with Keane, Stephen Ward will also miss the match due to a red card and will be replaced by Stephen Kelly.
The game will kick off 6:30 PM Dublin time which is 10:45 PM in Yerevan, Armenia 1:30 PM in the Eastern Time Zone, 10:30 AM in the Pacific Time Zone.
Ireland comes into the game with the mentality of to not allow the Armenian side to score and to secure a spot in the playoffs. Movsisyan, who had three assists against Macedonia, is able to get a counter goal in, which forces the Irish to open up their game a little more, leading to Pizzelli adding the insurance tally for the visitors.