*photo - by Photolur, via ArmeniaNow
A little bit of football history was made in Armenian town Abovyan on 22 May 2008: for the first time Armenia hosted its neighbouring country Turkey in the opening match of a European football tournament - UEFA European Under-19 Championship.
The Under-19 national team of Armenia suffered a 2-1 defeat from their Turkish coevals on Thursday in the opening match of a UEFA European Under-19 Championship Elite Round Group 7 tournament hosted in Armenia, May 22-27.
In a tightly contested fixture played in Abovyan, some 20 kilometers from capital Yerevan, Armenia, for the first time entertaining a neighboring nation with which it has a closed border and no diplomatic relations, conceded the first goal from Turkey’s Sercan Yildirim in the tenth minute and did not equalize until just before half time thanks to a Tigran Voskanyan effort. The Turkish team, however, got their noses in front with an Erhan Senturk strike just past the hour to keep the winning score until the end of the match.
The Thursday encounter opened a series of three Armenia v Turkey games at different levels. The two countries’ main teams are drawn in the same World Cup 2010 qualifying group and are due to start their campaigns with a game in Yerevan in early September. Before that, the two countries’ U-21 teams will play in a Euro-2009 qualifier also in Yerevan on August 20.
Police presence was significant, which is understandable as it was no ordinary game, and the atmosphere was more tense than usual. A1+ reports that perhaps the only 'incident' was at the beginning of the match when Turkish national anthem was deafened under the whistles of Armenian football fans. However, the tension was relieved after two teams were photographed together following Armenia's FA initiative (photo below - via FFA).
Unfortunately, Armenia lost this game to Turkey 1:2. But the very fact of this game, and that it went without any serious incidents, violence and red cards (only one yellow card) deserves special mention. Unzipped reader H. T. passed me his opinion of this event: "I think it’s just a good example of two countries who have their political differences coming together and there were no acts of violence or red cards during the match. There were instances of players helping each other out." Can't agree with him more!
YEREVAN (Armenpress) - Armenian Soccer Coach Armen Gyubudagyants told at a press conference after the game that despite the defeat, he is moved by the devotion displayed by his team. It was quite an active game, he explained. But the Turkish team was much stronger than the Armenian.
"Five core team members were absent in our team, their presence might have brought other results," Gyubadagyants explained.
According to the head coach of the Turkish team Ahmet Cheyhan, the Armenian team was very quick and well prepared. Before the match-up, he was unfamiliar with the Armenian team and Armenian soccer in general, Cheyhan said. "Today we saw that you have quite good soccer players who in the future will become high-quality players," he said.
This tournament proved to be a very good introduction to another upcoming truly historic football event between our countries: Armenia vs Turkey - 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying match on 6 September 2008 hosted by Armenian capital Yerevan.
2010 FIFA World Cup Europe draw - Group 5:
Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia, Estonia
There were suggestions from the head of FA that Armenia's main stadium - Hrazdan stadium (hosts around 60 000 football fans), which is currently undergoing major renovation, would be ready by September. However, it is still doubtful, and the match may take place in Republican stadium, which was renovated in 2000 and can serve around 15 000 football fans only.
As I noted in one of my previous posts, here is hope that Armenian and Turkish fans will behave, and we won't witness any ugly scenes in Yerevan, but rather will celebrate the occasion to get to know each other better and use sporting spirit for reconciliation (not destruction!), and a pint of beer? It's funny that football draws frequently bring us with 'sensitive' outcomes. It's more than a fate... I will be blogging about it from Yerevan...