Ireland are taking a long trip into unknown territory when they start their Euro 2012 campaign against Armenia in their opening Group B fixture here on Friday.
The showdown at Yerevan will not only be the two nations’ first ever meeting but also Ireland’s first competitive fixture since the Thierry Henry’s handball trick knocked them out of the World Cup play-off.
Armenia won only one 2010 World Cup qualifier on their home turf, a 2-1 victory over Belgium, recording also one draw and three defeats, while Ireland were unbeaten in away matches, winning twice in six matches including a 1-1 play-off draw in France.
In the absence of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, who has recently left hospital after undergoing a stomach operation, his assistant coach Marco Tardelli said he was expecting Ireland to make a flying start into the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.
After a trip to Armenia, Ireland then host minnows Andorra four days later.
“We go into this double header of qualifiers well prepared and confident having held a successful training camp in May and played a number of competitive and challenging friendly matches,” Tardelli said.
“Playing Armenia in Yerevan will be a tough test for the team but when we return to play our first competitive home game four days later, we hope to go to Aviva stadium having made a positive start to the campaign.”
Armenia’s manager Vardan Minasyan said he acknowledged Ireland as the favourites but added that his team did not plan to give away points to any of their opponents.
“All of our group opponents are strong but, I believe, at home we are capable of beating any of them,” Minasyan said.
“It’s good to start the qualifying campaign with a win and I will point my players to perform at their top to win on Friday.”
“We already have experience of successful playing against teams that were even stronger than Ireland and we are intended to win the upcoming match also.”
The head of Armenia’s Football Federation Ruben Airapetyan said that Ireland look impartially stronger ahead of the kick-off, adding however that disappointment after their failure to make the World Cup finals may significantly decrease their morale.
“That dramatic episode, when the referee’s blunder deprived Ireland of a place in the World Cup finals may still affect their performance,” Airapetyan said in a recent interview.
“I believe this circumstance can increase our chances in Friday’s match,” he added.
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