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Armenia moved forward by leaps and bounds on the rankings of 200 or so football nations monthly updated by the game’s international governing body FIFA as it left its latest rivals in Euro-2012 qualification looking for answers after surprise defeats by the rising team.
Under new head coach Vardan Minasyan Armenia got to a successful start of the qualifying campaign, beating Slovakia and Andorra, tying with Macedonia and losing only to the Republic of Ireland. The results currently give Armenia second place in qualifying Group B next to Russia â€“ a rival in the next two matches. (It also gave Armenia the 59th position on the FIFA list, as of Nov. 17, â€“ the highest Armenia has achieved in its history of performances as an independent nation since 1994).
Football analysts also mention the emerging trio of the Highlanders that has quickly been dubbed MMM, standing for the initial letters of the surnames of Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pyunik forward Edgar Manucharyan and recently invited American-raised striker Yura Movsisyan, playing for the Danish Randers club:
Armenia’s head coach himself said, summing up the results of the season, that he wouldn’t consider it a surprise should his side manage to beat Russia.
Domestically, Pyunik triumphed after a hard season and big challenge posed by rival Banants.
In women’s basketball, Armenia placed second at the European Division C Championship hosted by Yerevan in summer. Despite losing in the final, the team, beefed up by US-trained Armenian players and an American, managed to win promotion to a higher division.
The country’s main hope in club basketball, Hatis, did reach the playoff stage of FIBA Euro Cup 2010/2011 Group F despite losing all four games at the group stage. The poor performance of Hatis, however, led to its Georgian-Armenian head coach’s resignation.
In another sport that had not been quite developed in Armenia before, ice-hockey, Armenia showed â€˜great skills’ hosting Division III World Championship and finishing second, just missing promotion.
The player and fan joy melted quickly, however, as the International Ice Hockey Federation suspended indefinitely the fledgling team apparently because some of its members had foreign citizenship. Â
Earlier, winter sports brought more disappointment for Armenians as Team Armenia’s four members suffered setbacks in skiing at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February.
But Armenia still celebrated successes in sports where its representatives traditionally excel.
In chess Levon Aronian led his nation to only seventh place at the World Olympiad after which Team Armenia ended its four-year reign as twice Olympic champions. But individually Aronian improved by the end of the season winning the title of the world blitz champion. He also became one of the world’s six grandmasters to have ever broken the 2800 rating barrier in the November 2010 FIDE world ranking with a rating of 2801 (currently making him number three in the world).
Remarkably, though, a team of young Armenian players showed some great chess quality becoming the winners of the World Youth U16 Olympiad in Turkey.
This was the second success for Armenian youths at this level. The nation’s junior team were also champs in 1998 when future board masters Levon Aronian, Gabriel Sargissian, Tigran L. Petrosian and Varuzhan Akobian were playing.
2010 will also be remembered by many for the successful participation of Armenian youths in the first-ever Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in August. Team Armenia there managed to win four medals, including one silver.
Meanwhile, in weightlifting, Armenia’s Tigran G. Martirosyan scored a major success by winning the title in the men’s 77-kg category at the world weightlifting championships in Antalya, Turkey, in September. He added the title to the one of the continent’s best he had earned earlier. He was also recognized as Armenia’s best athlete in 2010 by the country’s federation of sport reporters.
In professional boxing, Armenia’s Germany-based â€œKingâ€ Arthur Abraham suffered his first major career blows in March and November as part of the Super Six Boxing Classic tournament that initially featured three top middleweights from Europe and three from America. Abraham, 30, lost to American Andre Dirrell on a disqualification and then to Brit Carl Froch on a unanimous decision â€“ showing little of the boxing that had brought him IBF titles and allowed to stay unbeaten in title defenses for years.
Another popular Armenian prizefighter based abroad, Vic Darchinyan, continued his successful struggle for belts getting hold of the vacant IBO bantamweight belt after beating a rival.
The Vanadzor-born â€˜Raging Bull’ now representing Australia had revealed more hunger for belts during the year despite his ripe age for a boxer of 34. In his latest fight on December 11, however, Darchinyan lost to a Mexican rising star, Abner Mares, in a Winner Takes All series semifinal.
Meanwhile, in amateur boxing Hrachik Javakhyan (w.c. 64 kg) brought Armenia a gold medal at the European championships in Russia in June.
Armenia also won medals in other fighting sports like judo, tae kwon do, sambo (unarmed self-defense), etc.