Stunning. Astonishing. Shocking. Impossible. Unbelievable. Extraordinary.
Those are just a few words that can describe the Cinderella-esque run made by the Armenian side during the qualification stages of the 2012 Euro Cup in Poland & Ukraine.
A roller coaster ride which included a disappointing draw in Macedonia, a hard-fought draw against Russia, a 3-1 defeat in Russia, a 4-0 thumping of Slovakia and ended in a bitter loss to end the campaign in Ireland due to questionable calls.
Along with results, huge additions were made for the Armenian side including the bringing in of Yura Movsisyan, the former MLS Cup Champion, and Artur Sarkisov, a guy who has blistering pace and can finish just as well. The latest major addition was that of Turkish-born, Aras Ozbiliz.
Aras is still young, at 21, and plays for one of the premier clubs on this planet, the Dutch Eredivisie for the side of AFC Ajax. Aras is widely considered to have had the potential to make the Dutch side, one of the World's elite, so it was no doubt a great addition, though he has yet to make his debut.
Now, the Armenian team cannot continue to dwell on their loss in Ireland, instead, they have to look towards the future. They must continue to improve, if they want to make another splash during the World Cup qualifiers, in order to prove that they did not just have one lucky campaign.
It has been widely agreed upon that the team is going to be in a much more difficult group for the World Cup qualifiers than it was in the European. Alongside that, they also will not have much of an element of surprise, as these nations will surely be ready to face this up-and-coming, small but proud, nation.
The Group (Group B)
Italy: The four-time World Cup Champions, one-time European Champions are coming off an undefeated Euro 2012 qualification campaign (Eight wins, two draws) and are currently sixth in the FIFA Rankings (11th in Elo Rankings).
Perennially a powerhouse nation no matter what type of competition they are playing in. If the Armenian side can sneak out with a win in Yerevan it'll be a good start, but realistically, expect the Armenians to sneak out a point against the Italian side, though anything is possible.
Denmark: The Danish side has never won a World Cup, but do have one European Cup to their nation's name. Also, they coming off a successful qualification campaign by winning their group, which featured Portugal.
The Danes are currently ranked 17th in the FIFA Rankings and 26th in the Elo Rankings.
Realistically, the Armenian side can look to gain three points and a victory in Yerevan, while also being able to challenge in Copenhagen and possibly gain a draw. In the end, I do see a win and a loss against the Danish side to give the Armenians three points.
Czech Republic: The Czech Republic has not won any competition, though they do have a European Cup as Czechoslovakia.
Coming off a second place finish in their group, behind Spain, the Czech's will have to win a playoff home-and-home against the Montenegrin side to clinch their tickets to Poland-Ukraine. Currently ranked 40th in the FIFA Rankings and 37th in the Elo Rankings.
These games will be teeth-grinders as they could go either way. Too add more to the story line, both nations are currently in the same qualifying group for the Under-21 2013 European Cup. It will be interesting to see how many of those young guys play for the Senior side during these qualifiers.
Prediction: Armenia gains three points at home and a draw on the road for one point.
Bulgaria: The Bulgarian side has yet to win any major competition with their best record being the Round of 16 during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
They are coming off a qualifying campaign, which saw them finish dead last in a group featuring Wales, England, Switzerland and Montenegro. Currently ranked 48 by FIFA and 50 by Elo.
The games against Bulgaria are going to be similar to the matches Armenia had against Macedonia during the Euro campaign. A win against home is nearly considered to be a lock, but it could be the biggest trap game for the side while in Bulgaria, should be a grind-it-out match. All six points for the Armenians here.
Malta: Malta has never finished higher than last in their group in any qualification stage and finished dead last in the last qualifiers as well, with only a draw against Georgia to give them a point. Currently ranked 153 by FIFA and 155 by Elo.
Malta is a team which the Armenian side should take the full six points against, but if they are to overestimate them, in the slightest, it could lead to disaster. I don't view that as what will happen so give six points to Armenia here as well.
That would give the Armenian side 19 points and in recent years, that has not been enough to finish in the top two. In fact, in the UEFA Qualifiers for the World Cup, last time it happened was back in the 2002 campaign. Hopefully, they go through and make history by qualifying to a tournament for the first-time in the nation's history.
Of course, a lot can change over the next two years as well, so let's hope Armenia continues to build a team and gets to where they can.
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