Image credit: Brad Merrett
Artsakh opened their 2019 CONIFA Sportsbet.io European Football Cup in style with a 3-2 win over Sapmi. Goals from Karen Shakhkeloyan, Arsen Sagsyen and Dimitry Malyaka secured an historic win for Artsakh under the floodlights in Stepanakert.
The tournament hosts opened the scoring early on through Karen Shakhkeloyan after a fantastic ball from winger Maret Karapetyan. The forward coolly slotted home beyond the Sapmi goalkeeper.
Undeterred, Sapmi fought back in a ferocious game in Stepanakert. They levelled midway through the first half when Benjamin Zakrisson worked space for himself in the area before rifling low into the bottom corner, injuring himself in the process.
The big crowd at the Stepanakert Stadium entertained itself with song, dance, drums and of course, a Mexican wave. As the atmosphere reached its climax, the Artsakh players responded with a flurry of pressure.
That pressure finally counted when Arsen Sagsyen reacted first in the area to drill the ball into the far corner to restore Artsakh’s lead. The stadium was sent into raptures in front of thousands of euphoric Artsakhians. In the first time in Artsakh’s history that the region was able to hold an international football match, they were leading again.
The second half was a fiery affair, with heavy committed challenges entertaining the big crowd. The old floodlights on the stadium flickered on as the sun slowly set behind the Caucasus mountain range but the tempo remained high.
Artsakh had an effort cleared off the line 10 minutes from time as they pushed to settle the game and they got their goal five minutes from the end. Dimitry Malyaka found space in the area to push the ball home and put the game beyond Sapmi and secure the host’s first win of the tournament.
Sapmi grabbed a goal back late on but it was too late as Artsakh strolled to victory.