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05.07.2009, 11:38:18
It started with the booing of the Turkish national anthem (always annoying regardless of nationality), and all but ended in a big brawl on the pitch when a visiting team member found himself down after a poor Armenian tackle. But in-between there was football drama for 22 young Armenians and Turks as well as thousands of fans at Republican Stadium in Yerevan (and wider audiences in front of their TV screens on either side of the closed border) on Tuesday night. Ninety minutes of play produced a rain of yellow and red cards, childish mistakes as well as early signs of mature play. The hour and a half was also good for seven goals. Five, alas, landed behind an Armenian goalkeeper. Fair enough… The biggest night for many in the Armenian team failed to produce a miracle against a Euro-2011 qualifying group leader. Perhaps the favored lads used up their miracles last year against the same squad, scoring twice in stoppage time in one of the greatest comebacks in Armenian football and beating their arch rivals 2-1. It was the fifth time that “by the irony of fate” (as Armenian football boss Ruben Hayrapetyan put it while urging fans to turn out for the game) Armenia and Turkey played at different levels in the past year or so. Apart from the juniors’ last-gasp victory at the end of last summer, Armenia was defeated on all other occasions, including in the historic game of the main teams that marked the beginning of a thaw in relations between Yerevan and Ankara. Look beyond the scoreboard for the silver lining in this cloud of loses. Armenia can be proud at this point of its high level of organization of four of these fives games in which it played host to Turks. In remarks made days before the Tuesday game, Football Federation Executive Director Armen Minasyan noted that less tension precedes Armenia v Turkey games now than before. “This is because we have gained considerable experience in organizing matches at this level,” he said. The football executive’s words reflected the reality at the stadium where, as usual, all due security measures had been taken by the organizing party. But while the physical presence of Turkish teams in Yerevan produces considerably less tension now than a year ago, it is also true that the level of pressure on Armenian players to produce a positive result has remained unchanged. “We need a victory, especially against the Turks,” said one fan who couldn’t conceal his disappointment with the score. “Well, then at least we must score victories in other fields,” he added on a more optimistic note. (Read: “We’re not guarding the goal, so you stop guarding the border.” Perhaps?) A sense of high expectations must also have been felt by at least two persons who followed the match from the VIP stand. President Serzh Sargsyan and his Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan had come to cheer the Armenian team and throughout the game also shared the joys and disappointments of the fans. It was Sargsyan who launched Armenian-Turkish “football diplomacy” almost a year ago by inviting Turkish President Abdullah Gul to a soccer summit in Yerevan during which they visited Hrazdan Stadium to enjoy together a World Cup qualifier between their national teams last September. Not surprisingly, Gul had reason to enjoy it more, as the Turks took the qualifier 2-0. Like the Tuesday encounter, the ongoing Armenia-Turkey “diplomatic match” has also seen lots of ups and downs since last year’s kickoff. The final whistle is likely to be blown on October 14 when Sargsyan is invited to travel to Turkey for the return match of the national teams. But his decision to accept or reject this invitation, he said, will depend on real progress in establishing relations without preconditions. Fair enough…
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