Armenia: The lowdown on Scotland's Nations League opponents 

Scotland face Armenia for the first time on Wednesday night.

Armenia: The lowdown on Scotland’s Nations League opponents SNS Group

With more football being played than ever before, it’s rare for Scotland to encounter new opposition.

The first Scotland match of the Nations League 2022/23 delivers just that, with Armenia the guests at Hampden on Wednesday night.

St Johnstone, Celtic and Rangers have all met club side Alashkert in European qualifying, but for Steve Clarke and his players, the fresh challenge in Group B1 is something of a novelty.

The group, which also includes Republic of Ireland and Ukraine, offers the possibility of promotion to the top level and glamour games against Europe’s best, as well as a second chance to reach Euro 2024.

Success will depend on beating the lowest seeds, and Scotland will expect three points from their first home game.

We’ve taken a look at the opposition to see what’s in store.

30 years of ups and downs

While the Tartan Army are still cursing the fact they haven’t been at a World Cup in 24 years, that’s almost as long as Armenia fans have been watching their side.

The team played their first international in 1992, a year after the country became independent, and spent the first decade or so bumping along at the lower end of the FIFA rankings.

A purple patch under manager Vardan Minasyan saw the team rise to 35th, largely down to a Euro 2012 qualifying campaign that saw them finish third in their group, but a sharp decline from 2014 saw the side slip back to being one of the also-rans.

Fourteen attempts to reach a World Cup or European Championships have ended in failure, but there have been notable results along the way, a win over Ireland last week among them.

That victory in Yerevan was in contrast to many heavy defeats in the last 12 months, coming after a 9-0 loss to Norway, while the team has also been beaten 5-0 by North Macedonia and 10-1 by Germany on aggregate.

The team are in Scotland’s group for a reason though, and that’s because they were group winners at League C level in the last Nations League.

An opening day defeat to North Macedonia in the group was the new manager’s first game in charge, but form turned around and Armenia bounced back to make up for that loss and top the section that also included Estonia and Georgia.

The manager

In charge for that campaign and still boss for the trip to Scotland is Spanish coach Joaquín Caparrós.

The hugely experienced manager, with more than half a dozen La Liga jobs on his CV, is in his first international post.

Joaquín Caparrós engineered a win over Ireland on Saturday.SNS Group

Despite mixed results, Caparrós has worked to get the fans behind the team. Engineering the win over Ireland after losing 9-0 to Norway shows an ability to lift spirits and organise a side, and he also goes to bat for his team when needed.

The manager has blasted UEFA for handing Armenia a schedule where they play Scotland twice, as well as Ireland and Ukraine, in one short window.

“Playing four matches in ten days is barbaric,” he said.

The squad

Armenia’s best, and best known player is… retired. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has seen his career take him to Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United, Arsenal and Rome among others, earning 95 international caps along the way.

The midfielder scored 32 times for his country and would have been the player everyone had an eye on, had he not drawn a line under his international career in March.

Travelling to Scotland without the talismanic player is a squad that’s drawn primarily from the domestic league.

Otherwise, Varasdat Haroyan is with Cadiz in La Liga and is a mainstay at the heart of the defence, and another regular in the back line, Astana’s Kamo Hovhannisyan, also has a wealth of experience.

Striker Sargis Adamyan has Bundesliga experience and has just finished a loan spell at Club Brugge, where he is a teammate of Jack Hendry, but the forward only has two international goals from 32 caps.

The lack of goals is notable throughout the squad, with nobody having hit double figures for their country. Midfielder Tigran Barseghyan is way out in front with eight international goals.

What to expect

Armenia stuck rigidly to a four-man defence over the last couple of years, with either a four or five-man midfield depending on the opposition.

Caparrós switched to a 5-3-2 for the win over Ireland, though, no doubt wanting defensive solidity after the thumping from Norway. Having enjoyed success, he may think that’s the way forward.

Caparrós puts his team through their paces at Hampden.SNS Group

Changes in personnel from that game are likely, with the manager having said he would rotate the team through the busy fixture list.

The team will be buoyant after one of their best results in recent years but that’s also likely to come with a touch of realism.

Armenia have won just twice in 12 games and are ranked 92nd in the world. As the promoted team, avoiding relegation is the top priority and it’s a tough task.

The team should be no pushovers, but Scotland are clear favourites and anything other than three points at Hampden on the back of last Wednesday’s defeat would turn disappointment into crisis.

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