YEREVAN (AFP) - Ireland are taking a long trip into unknown territory when they start their Euro 2012 campaign against Armenia in their opening Group B fixture here on Friday.
The showdown at Yerevan will not only be the two nations' first ever meeting but also Ireland's first competitive fixture since the Thierry Henry's handball trick knocked them out of the World Cup play-off.
Armenia won only one 2010 World Cup qualifier on their home turf, a 2-1 victory over Belgium, recording also one draw and three defeats, while Ireland were unbeaten in away matches, winning twice in six matches including a 1-1 play-off draw in France.
In the absence of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, who has recently left hospital after undergoing a stomach operation, his assistant coach Marco Tardelli said he was expecting Ireland to make a flying start into the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.
After a trip to Armenia, Ireland then host minnows Andorra four days later.
"We go into this double header of qualifiers well prepared and confident having held a successful training camp in May and played a number of competitive and challenging friendly matches," Tardelli said.
"Playing Armenia in Yerevan will be a tough test for the team but when we return to play our first competitive home game four days later, we hope to go to Aviva stadium having made a positive start to the campaign."
Armenia's manager Vardan Minasyan said he acknowledged Ireland as the favourites but added that his team did not plan to give away points to any of their opponents.
"All of our group opponents are strong but, I believe, at home we are capable of beating any of them," Minasyan said.
"It's good to start the qualifying campaign with a win and I will point my players to perform at their top to win on Friday."
"We already have experience of successful playing against teams that were even stronger than Ireland and we are intended to win the upcoming match also."
The head of Armenia's Football Federation Ruben Airapetyan said that Ireland look impartially stronger ahead of the kick-off, adding however that disappointment after their failure to make the World Cup finals may significantly decrease their morale.
"That dramatic episode, when the referee's blunder deprived Ireland of a place in the World Cup finals may still affect their performance," Airapetyan said in a recent interview.
"I believe this circumstance can increase our chances in Friday's match," he added.
|S. St. Ledger||61'|
|K. Doyle||69' 81'|
|Coach: G. Trapattoni|
for A. McGeady 67'
for G. Whelan 76'
for S. Cox 80'
|Verona 1 Lazio 1: Toni on the spot to earn a point|
|Varela returns to West Brom training|
|MLS announce new franchise Los Angeles FC|
|Newcastle United v Liverpool: Pardew vows to attack|
|UEFA sanction Slovan Bratislava and Sparta Prague|
|Pardew credits Hull fightback for upturn in form|
|Stoke City v West Ham: Allardyce sweating on Sakho´s fitness|
|Jovetic hungry for City goals|
|Fernandez red card rescinded|
|Chelsea v QPR: Redknapp ready to face Premier League´s best|
|Everton v Swansea: Martinez hails in-form attackers|
|SFA ban Tonev for seven games|
|Leicester City v West Brom: Pearson backs hosts to end slump|
|Arsenal v Burnley: Walcott set to return against bottom side|
|Koeman backs Southampton to maintain impressive start|
|Klopp wary of Dresden Pokal upset|
|Empoli v Juventus: Bonucci calls for greater maturity|
|Monk to meet with referee boss Riley|
|Parma v Inter: Crunch time for struggling Donadoni|
|Uchida extends Schalke deal|
|Liverpool must build on Swansea win - Rodgers|
|Hull City v Southampton: Koeman not worried about tiredness|
|Destro may consider Roma future|
|Raul completes Cosmos move|
|Bolasie working to adapt game|
|Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund: Kehl demands raised games|
|Bodmer pens Nice extension|
|Forest agree Ince loan|
|Simeone expected Atleti exits|
|Clark targets great escape after getting Blackpool job|
|Sakho ´touch and go´ for Stoke trip - Allardyce|
|La Liga Preview: Barca look to bounce back, Sevilla face Bilbao test|
|Icardi slams Inter boo-boys|
|Granada v Real Madrid: Ancelotti´s expectant side in red-hot form|
|Lorient v Paris Saint-Germain: Champions aim to stay in touch|
|Bundesliga Preview: Dortmund aim to end form slump at Bayern|
|Redknapp unconcerned over Ferdinand conduct|
|Atletico Madrid v Cordoba: Godin reveals Atleti motivation|
|Ligue 1 Preview: Strugglers Guingamp and Bastia face off|
|Ribery plays down supporter incident|
|Barcelona v Celta Vigo: Suarez set for home debut|
|Martinez praises influential Eto´o|
|Hernandez determined to shine|
|Kane hoping for starting role|
|Bonucci: Pitch not to blame for Juve loss|
|Pardew hails returning Taylor|
|Spain hit back in Costa row|
|Allegri slams Juve for Genoa loss|
|Copa Sudamericana Review: River Plate, Atletico Nacional grab leads|
|FC Dallas 2 Vancouver Whitecaps 1: Late penalty sends hosts through|
|Venezuelan Primera Division Review: Trujillanos triumph at Zamora|
|Liga del Futbol Profesional Boliviano Review: Bolivar reclaim lead, San Jose bounce back|
|Garcia not interested in Juventus´ loss|
|Copa do Brasil Review: Flamengo blitz Mineiro late|
|Guardiola: Hamburg ´surprised´ Bayern|
|Independiente del Valle 4 Universidad Catolica 0: Sornoza scores stunner|
|Paraguayan Division Profesional Review: Nacional extend Rubio Nu´s winless run|
|Ancelotti retracts Blatter criticism|
|Eredivisie Preview: Feyenoord-PEC a championship six-pointer|
|DFB Pokal Review: Leverkusen edge through on penalties, Bayern march on|
|Allegri unhappy with Genoa pitch and late goal|
|Bonaventura reveals ´lucky´ lob|
|Buoyant Pardew bullish after Newcastle triumph|
|Coupe de la Ligue Review: Late goal eliminates Marseille, Metz edge Nice on penalties|
|Pellegrini has defensive concerns|
|Serie A Review: Genoa shock Juve, Roma win again|
|Chelsea to face Derby in League Cup quarter-finals as Bournemouth host Liverpool|
|Inter 1 Sampdoria 0: Late Icardi penalty lifts Mazzarri|
|Genoa 1 Juventus 0: Antonini spoils Buffon milestone as champions suffer first defeat|
|Tottenham 2 Brighton and Hove Albion 0: Lamela and Kane put Tottenham through|
|Stoke City 2 Southampton 3: Late Pelle strike seals Saints progress|
|Manchester City 0 Newcastle United 2: Holders stunned on home soil|
|Cagliari 1 Milan 1: Bonaventura´s brilliance rescues a point|
|Hamburg 1 Bayern Munich 3: Returning Ribery inspires holders|
|Cornella 1 Real Madrid 4: Holders coast to easy Copa win|
|Fulham appoint Symons on full-time basis|
|Monk to face no action over Moses comments|
|Defensive duo earn first call-ups under Hiddink|
|Sturridge eager to link up with ´misunderstood´ Balotelli|
|Ferdinand receives three-match ban for misconduct|
|Vale turn to Page to start new era|
|Isla rubbishes Italy return rumours|
|Return to training a fantastic feeling - Carroll|
|Indian Super League Review: Elano inspires Mumbai hammering, Atletico held|
|O´Neill names provisional Republic of Ireland squad|
|Thai Premier League Review: Buriram go top with one game to go|
|King commits to Leicester|
|Swansea appeal Fernandez red|
|Schalke yet to begin Boateng talks|
|Championship Preview: Rowett reign begins at Birmingham, Derby travel to Brentford|
|League Two Preview: Whitlow takes charge of Burton, Luton eye eight in a row|
|Rummenigge risks fresh Reus row|
|Cabella targets consistency|
|Song wants Premier League stay|
|Ancelotti slams Blatter´s Ballon d´Or comments|
|Ancelotti calms Bale fears|
|Toure expecting more Balotelli goals|
|Clattenburg to miss weekend fixtures|
|Rodriguez surprised by Isco|
|Mourinho frustrated with fringe players|
|A-League Preview: City seek to avenge derby defeat|
|Pellegrini assured City will improve|
|Lovren: Balotelli´s goal ´a relief for everyone´|
|Coupe de la Ligue Review: Bordeaux win derby, Montpellier crash out|
|Howe hails history-making Bournemouth|
|Monk wants Fernandez red overturned|
|League Cup Review: Balotelli on target in late fightback, Chelsea edge through|