Trailing 2-0 to Montenegro at half-time in November’s FIFA World Cup qualifier, Armenia must have felt that the writing was on the wall and that a fourth defeat in as many games was looming. Two goals in quick succession from Damir Kojasevic and Stevan Jovetic had enabled the visitors to go into the break in firm control, and seemingly primed to record a third successive win in Group E against their lowly hosts.
Armenia manager Artur Petrosyan – taking charge of his first game after the resignation of Varuzhan Sukiasyan – and his players had other ideas, however. Galvanised as they entered the pitch after the break, they looked a completely different side and staged a valiant and unlikely comeback to restore parity, before bagging a dramatic last-minute winner through attacking midfielder Gevorg Ghazaryan.
The result not only gave Petrosyan a winning start to life as coach, but lifted the south-east European nation 38 places to 87th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, establishing them as November’s biggest mover.
National playing icon takes managerial reinsA four-time Armenian Premier League winner with Shirak Gyumri who also has experience of Swiss football with Young Boys and FC Zurich, Petrosyan - a former midfielder - hung up his boots in 2006 before going on to serve as a youth coach at FC Zurich. After a spell as Armenia assistant manager under Swiss Bernard Challandes from 2014 to 2015, he accepted the head coach role in October 2016, although the timing of this promotion came as a surprise.
“I didn’t think it would be so soon,” said the 44-year-old, speaking to Mediamax Sport. “I thought I would get to this point after a few years in club football. Everything happened very quickly. I played for the national team for years and had no right to reject them at this difficult moment. I believed that I have the power to work with the team.”
The country’s fourth all-time appearance-maker with 69 caps, Petrosyan holds the accolade of appearing in Armenia’s first international – a goalless home draw against Moldova – and was the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer before being surpassed by Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Emotional following his side’s stunning comeback against Montenegro, which saw Armenia record their first competitive win since October 2013, Petrosyan said his debut victory was on par with one of the greatest international moments he experienced as a player. That came when the Gyumri-born midfielder bagged a late winner against Northern Ireland in a UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying match in March 2003 with a superb solo effort, which brought an end to a winless streak in qualifying matches that, at the time, stretched back to October 1999.
“I felt the same after defeating Northern Ireland in 2003,” said Petrosyan, reflecting on the Montenegro win. “The situation was similar – three-and-a-half years without a win, and I scored the decisive goal. I think I got the same emotions after the game with Montenegro.”
Having now ended their three-year winless run in qualifying and embarked on a dramatic rise in the FIFA Ranking, Armenia will naturally have a spring in their step going into their next qualifier on the road to Russia, at home to Group E basement side Kazakhstan in March.
“We will try to reinforce all the good moves and decisions we showed in the game with Montenegro. At the same time, we’ll strive to correct our faults and errors,” Petrosyan said.
“This match showed that our problem lies in defence. We have progressed compared to previous games, but we made many tactical mistakes. True, we possessed the ball more often and could have escalated the game, but we didn’t. We will fix that in time.”