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.
|Coach: V. Minasyan|
for Artur Yedigaryan 68'
for Artak Yedigaryan 71'
for E. Malakyan 78'
|Mertens close to Napoli move|
|Neville: Pre-season is the time to impress Moyes|
|Carragher: Liverpool will do business quickly|
|Palermo appoint Gattuso|
|Martinez: Let´s build on last season|
|Fabregas: Real would be foolish to spend £100 million on Bale|
|Sunderland make Vydra loan bid|
|Baldini appointed as Tottenham technical director|
|FA Cup final given end-of-season billing|
|Coyle´s Wigan tenure begins at Barnsley|
|Celtic to start with Ross County test|
|Pique advises Thiago to stay at Barcelona|
|Llambias resigns but Pardew vows to stay on|
|Lampard targets third World Cup|
|Zorc: De Bruyne is interested in Dortmund move|
|FIFA World Cup Qualifying Wrap: United States stay in charge|
|Neill, Schwarzer in the shop window|
|Osieck vindicated by super-sub Kennedy|
|Puyol set for further surgery|
|Ribery, Benzema trial adjourned|
|Bielsa, Santos talks fall through|
|Vilanova rues easy title run-in|
|Del Bosque defends Casillas´ inclusion|
|Lens leaves PSV for Dynamo Kiev|
|FIFA Confederations Cup Preview: Spain v Tahiti|
|FIFA World Cup Qualifying Wrap: Australia, Iran, South Korea qualify|
|Carroll passes West Ham medical|
|Maher agent denies Ajax deal|
|Newcastle confirm Kinnear appointment|
|Taylor ´really happy´ with Kinnear return|
|Australia 1-0 Iraq: Kennedy books Brazil place|
|Clarke happy with Reid commitment|
|Bittencourt signs for Hannover|
|Van Dijk keen on Celtic move|
|De Gea sets the bar high|
|Confederations Cup Preview: Nigeria v Uruguay|
|Bacuna keen to get going at Villa|
|Hamburg a possibility for Santa Cruz|
|Rebelo: Protests will not harm Confederations Cup|
|Kinnear: We need another striker|
|Brazil-Mexico Preview: Selecao gunning for semi-final berth|
|Valcke: Brazil better for football tournaments|
|Tahiti trump Nigeria in celebration stakes|
|FIFA Confederations Cup Preview: Italy v Japan|
|FIFA Confederations Cup: Nigeria 6 Tahiti 1|
|Borini´s Napoli move unlikely|
|Remon: Zidane not ready for Real job|
|Elyounoussi says yes to Hoffenheim|
|Mignolet agent anticipating bids|
|Schalke signs Clemens|
|Italy-Japan Preview: Azzurri aiming to move closer to last four with victory|
|Sidwell looking for settled squad at Fulham|
|Hearts set to enter administration|
|Martinez hoping to bring ´characters´ to Everton|
|Scholes sad to see Robinson leave Stoke|
|Bayern, Barca in hunt for Koscielny|
|Toulouse deny Lyon approach for Tabanou|
|Vitoria pleased with ´dream´ Benfica move|
|Poyet refuses to attend hearing|
|UEFA Under 21 Championship Final Preview: Italy v Spain|
|Van Dijk attracting foreign interest|
|FIFA Confederations Cup Preview: Brazil v Mexico|
|Brentford confirm signing of Bidwell from Everton|
|Lambert says Lowton can still improve|
|Owen not ready to become a manager|
|Rangel praises Michu impact|
|Gundogan pledges future to Dortmund|
|Tevez refuses to be drawn on speculation|
|Mourinho: Chelsea need stability|
|Reid remains at West Brom after agreeing new deal|
|Tahiti 1-6 Nigeria: Oduamadi hits hat-trick as Super Eagles smash South Pacific islanders|
|Dortmund confirm Lewandowski stay|
|Hull sign Figueroa|
|Colombia Primera Division Wrap: Santa Fe held as Pasto, Millonarios win|
|Liverpool appoint new chief financial officer|
|Isco reveals offers from Real and City|
|Bradford to start Capital One Cup campaign at Huddersfield|
|Kinnear: Cabaye will stay at Newcastle|
|Peru Primera Division Wrap: Cesar Vallejo up to fourth|
|Paraguay Division Profesional Wrap: Nacional Asuncion beaten after securing title|
|Argentina Primera Division Wrap: Blanco brace fires Lanus|
|Ecuador Primera A Wrap: Independiente held despite Guerrero stunner|
|Del Bosque satisfied with Spain´s Cup opener|
|FIFA Confederations Cup: Spain 2 Uruguay 1|
|Prandelli undeterred by plucky Mexico|
|FIFA World Cup Qualifying Wrap: Ethopia, Egypt top groups|