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'
|Ribery sidelined for three Bayern Munich matches|
|Cahill refuses to rule out retirement after Asian Cup final|
|Pogba to leave Juve by end of next season - Agent|
|Martinez not planning Eto´o replacement|
|Blatter formally submits bid to remain FIFA president|
|Puncheon predicts ´great times´ for Palace|
|Donadoni has no plans to leave Parma and criticises Cassano|
|Mangala: My first season at City could have been better|
|UAE v Iraq: Rare podium finish on offer|
|Ryan spurred on by Australia´s 2011 heartbreak|
|Montella will not sell Cuadrado cheap|
|Mali, Guinea furious with tie-breaking procedure|
|Luis Enrique defends Neymar´s behaviour|
|Gabi: Referee lacked personality|
|Chile 3 USA 2: Gonzalez´s brace extends Americans´ pain|
|Franjic cleared of serious injury|
|Our progression was deserved - Pochettino|
|Ivory Coast´s tournament starts now - Renard|
|Allegri rejects Juve criticism|
|Atletico´s Arda Turan escapes red card after throwing boot at assistant referee|
|Atletico Madrid 2 Barcelona 3 (agg 2-4): Neymar double secures semi-final spot|
|Parma 0 Juventus 1: Morata late show wins it for visitors|
|Sheffield United 2 Tottenham 2 (agg 2-3): Pochettino books Wembley final|
|Ecuador dismiss Vizuete|
|Championship Preview: Middlesbrough out to continue run, Bournemouth seek response|
|Guinea 1 Mali 1: Lots to decide Group D runners-up|
|Cameroon 0 Ivory Coast 1: Gradel strike sends Renard´s men through|
|Lots to be drawn to decide AFCON qualifiers|
|Eredivisie Preview: De Boer warning for Ajax, leaders PSV host Willem II|
|Bundesliga Preview: Leaders Bayern and Wolfsburg kick off Ruckrunde|
|Howard boost for Everton|
|Ligue 1 Preview: Jardim plays down Monaco title hopes ahead of Lyon showdown|
|Costa charged by FA for alleged Can stamp|
|O´Keefe joins Cardiff|
|Dons teenager Alli in demand|
|Gabriel seals Arsenal switch|
|Wolfsburg v Bayern Munich: Guardiola eyes ´big step´ to Bundesliga title|
|Paris Saint-Germain v Rennes: Montanier seeks another upset in French capital|
|Martinez rules out panic buys|
|Gilardino targets Fiorentina goals|
|Milan agree Bocchetti loan|
|League Two Preview: Cambridge and Luton prepare to renew rivalries|
|Ronaldo hit with two-match ban|
|West Brom complete McManaman deal|
|Sullivan hits back in Sakho row|
|Richards: Cuadrado suited to Premier League|
|Figo to challenge for FIFA presidency|
|Inzaghi out to freshen up struggling Milan|
|Wigan agree a fee for Mckay|
|Carver eyes strong finish|
|Bowen cools talk of Stoke swoop for Sandro and Traore|
|Lazio-bound Morrison lands in Rome|
|Mourinho fined £25k for ´campaign´ claims|
|Mainz bring in Castillo|
|Villa: Lambert will not be sacked|
|Monk hopeful of adding new faces|
|Sainsbury ready to replace Franjic|
|Beckenbauer hopeful of Guardiola stay|
|Mourinho hits back at Costa critics|
|Rodriguez grateful for ´fundamental´ Ronaldo support|
|La Liga Preview: Real want revenge against Socieded|
|No Dallas move for Essien|
|Bale rubbishes United link, Ronaldo rift|
|Sahin in ´good shape´ for Bundesliga resumption|
|Rodgers slams Costa´s stamp collection|
|Under-fire Inzaghi urges patience|
|Rodgers: Courtois saved Chelsea|
|Mashaba wants lessons to be learnt after AFCON exit|
|Mourinho refuses to wade into Costa incidents after Chelsea win|
|Football League Review: Bent double sends Derby second, Rotherham triumph|
|Chelsea 1 Liverpool 0 (aet, agg 2-1): Ivanovic settles action-packed League Cup semi-final|
|Milan 0 Lazio 1: Inzaghi future plunged into further doubt|
|Neymar dreaming of ending Brazil´s home hoodoo|
|South Africa 1 Ghana 2: Late Ayew winner seals qualification|
|Senegal 0 Algeria 2: Mahrez and Bentaleb dump Senegal out|
|Bocchetti poised to join Milan on loan|
|De Rossi suffers calf injury|
|Montano accuses Oldham of double standards after Evans saga|
|Bojan out for the season with ruptured cruciate|
|Cameroon v Ivory Coast: Renard defends Yaya Toure|
|Yanga-Mbiwa makes Roma move permanent|
|Guinea v Mali: Quarter-final berth on offer in Mongomo|
|Thohir: Inter not reliant on European football|
|Bremen land Vestergaard|
|Allegri refuses to rule out Cassano move|
|Mexes handed four-game ban after Lazio dismissal|
|Joyce reveals Valdes´ inspirational team-talk|
|CAF announces AFCON venue switches|
|Alcacer commits future to Valencia|
|Postecoglou calls for Aussie ´energy´|
|Everton confirm Eto´o departure to Sampdoria|
|Pochettino to stick with Vorm despite cup error|
|Barcelona are not favourites against Atletico, says Luis Enrique|
|Allegri wary of Parma backlash in Coppa Italia|
|Zidane urges Real to tie Ancelotti down|
|FIFPro: Transfer system failing football|
|Anderlecht condemn Standard´s Defour banner|
|Australia 2 UAE 0: Socceroos ease into home final|
|Barca overhaul youth system|
|FIFPro demands clubs respect contractual obligations|
|Mahmoud targeting World Cup place with Iraq|
|Fabregas wants Chelsea to show winning mentality|
|Rangers borrow £10m from Ashley´s Sports Direct|
|Lyon face anxious wait over Lacazette|
|Undermanned Lazio recall Perea|
|Ki wants South Korea to prove their superiority|
|Ghana´s Gyan wary of South Africa|
|Mashaba urges South Africa to attack|
|Benitez: Napoli deserved to win|
|Pacos de Ferreira 1 Benfica 0: Leaders fail from the spot|
|Serie A Review: Higuain at the double in controversial Napoli win, Udinese see off Empoli|