The two teams had been drawn into Group B of the ongoing qualifying campaign for the next European football championship that will be hosted by Poland and Ukraine in 2012.
Russia occupies the top sport in the group table four games played last fall. Armenia as well as the Republic of Ireland and Slovakia trail the Russians by only two points, making the group one of the most tightest and unpredictable ones in the Euro 2012 campaign.
Following a run of surprisingly good results, the Armenians are now seen as having a first-ever real chance of qualifying for a major football tournament. The March 26 qualifier against Russia to be played in Yerevan could thus prove decisive.
Armenia -- National football team players celebrate after scoring a goal against Slovaki in a Euro 2012 qualifier, Yerevan, 08Oct2010
“Zhamanak,” a pro-opposition Armenian daily, claimed Wednesday that Russian authorities have made an unspecified “lucrative economic offer” to Armenia ahead of the game keenly anticipated by soccer fans in both countries. The paper was worried that the alleged offer will be accepted.
The AFF’s controversial chairman, Ruben Hayrapetian, was incensed by the allegation and held a news conference to rebut it. “They tried to disgrace and shame our country, our federation,” he raged, adding: “There is no way the Armenian national team can throw a game.”
Hayrapetian, who is also a wealthy businessman close to President Serzh Sarkisian, likened max-fixing to prostitution. “I simply can’t engage in prostitution,” he said.
The AFF chief also argued that Russia is strong enough to count on victory in fair play. “You think that the Russian national team is so weak that they could buy victory from us?” he asked.
Russian officials were reported to likewise brush aside the max-fixing allegation.
Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian (R) and Chairman of Armenian Football Federation Ruben Hayrapetian (C) greet Armenian national team after its defeat of Slovakia, Yerevan,08Oct,2010
Hayrapetian said it was also an affront to Armenian football players, who sparked jubilant scenes in Yerevan after defeating Slovakia and Andorra last October. “Our team is longing for victory. Don’t ruin it,” he told reporters. He said President Sarkisian has instructed him to help them defeat the Russians.
“Zhamanak” stood by the allegation in its Thursday edition, however, saying that Sarkisian’s administration has already used the popular game for political aims during its so-called “football diplomacy” with Turkey. “A government that has been giving Russia everything can also be expected to throw the football match with Russia,” it claimed.