Since taking over from Jan Poulsen in March 2009, Armenia coach Vardan Minasyan has already caused a few surprises, not least beating Belgium in 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying last September and since putting in some encouraging early displays in qualification for UEFA EURO 2012. "It's a great honour to be national coach and I'm very proud. It's also a big responsibility because you're representing your country in front of the world," Minasyan told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
An official FIFA member association since 1992, Armenia, with a population of just over three million, have yet to qualify for a major tournament. Nevertheless the team ranked 105th in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking have managed to give several top European sides a run for their money in their short history. "After the collapse of the Soviet Union we had a lot of problems in our country, but now football is growing once again. For that reason we're putting a lot of emphasis on youth development," continued Minasyan.
We were lacking experience against Ireland. The Irish have some very tried and tested players who are used to competing in matches like that. Almost all of them play in the English Premier League.
The former international midfielder, who turned out for Swiss club Lausanne Sports, Russian outfit Lokomotiv St. Petersburg and homeland side Pyunik Yerevan as a player, has a contract with the Armenian FA which runs until the end of the current EURO qualifying campaign. In that time, as he explains to FIFA.com, he is hoping to create more stability within the national squad. "Our team is very young. My first target is to steadily improve the quality of our game and bring a certain amount of stability. We played well in both our qualifiers so far, even if the results could have been better, but that will come eventually."
Though the Armenians have picked up just a single point from their opening two Group B fixtures, the 'Highlanders' put in convincing displays against both the Republic of Ireland and FYR Macedonia. "We were lacking experience against Ireland. The Irish have some very tried and tested players who are used to competing in matches like that. Almost all of them play in the English Premier League," said Minasyan.
Despite twice taking the lead against Macedonia in Skopje, the hosts hit back in the fifth minute of injury time to salvage a point, leaving Armenia fourth in the early standings.
"We should have won, even if our opponents did create a number of chances in the first half. Perhaps we thought we'd won the game already and lost our concentration. We need to gain more experience," the coach added.
Minasyan's young charges have the chance to prove themselves once again this Friday as Slovakia arrive in Yerevan. The visitors have begun their campaign impressively with 1-0 victories over both Macedonia and Russia, and the Armenia boss readily admits that his side will go into the match as firm underdogs. "I think Slovakia are the favourites for this match, but the strongest team doesn't always win. We're respectful of our opponents, but certainly not fearful. For me it's important that we play well. If we can get that stability into our game, we'll be in a position to get a positive result."
Four days later the roles will be reversed when the Armenians welcome group minnows Andorra. Nothing less than three points will suffice for the hosts, as Minasyan confirmed at the end of our interview: "Everyone's expecting us to beat Andorra, and that inlcudes me, so the pressure will be on us to deliver."