Pyunik out to fend off pretenders' claimsTuesday 17 March 2009
by Khachik Chakhoyan from Yerevan


More teams than ever have genuine title aspirations as the new
Armenian season kicks off on Saturday, but FC Pyunik are unlikely to
give up their seven-year monopoly on the crown without a mighty
battle.

Magic formula
An unexpected decision to concentrate on youth development led many to
predict that Pyunik's six-year spell as Armenian champions would come
to an end in 2008. However, their inexperienced squad showed what
could be achieved through a combination of raw energy and desire, with
right-back Sargis Hovsepyan, 36, and 20-year-old midfielder Henrik
Mkhitaryan running the show.

Double target
It took a 2-1 play-off victory against FC Ararat Yerevan to settle the
title after the two sides finished level on 59 points at the end of
the season, but Pyunik prevailed, and coach Vardan Minasyan is
targeting a double this time round. "We want to win the league and the
Armenian Cup as well," he said. "It will not be easy but we are not
afraid of what lies ahead."

Ararat optimism
Five sides are angling to deny Pyunik on both fronts, with Ararat
perhaps the least credible rivals, having lost seven first-team
players since last season. Coach Ashot Kirakosyan has not given up
hope, though, and said: "We lost a number of key players but are still
strong enough with a mix of experienced competitors and young players
who want to achieve more." 'Time to win something'
FC MIKA have banked on foreign talent, bringing in Croatian coach Ivo
Šušak and a raft of new players, including former Real Madrid CF
trainees Pedro López and Ulises Montenegro Cano. "It's time to win
something," said MIKA director Armen Petikyan. "We are working very
professionally and our newcomers feel comfortable so there is nothing
to disturb us."

Long-shot contenders
FC Banants, like Pyunik, have chosen to bank on young talent under
respected coach Armen Gyulbudaghyants, who has improved the atmosphere
in the team and adopted new attacking tactics since taking over
towards the end of last season. FC Gandzasar Kapan, who finished third
last year, also fancy their chances as do FC Ulis Yerevan in what
should be the most competitive Armenian campaign yet.