Image credit: Brad Merrett
Hosts Artsakh were eliminated from the tournament by a robust Abkhazia side after failing to capitalise on a dominant second half in front of a passionate crowd in Martuni.
Artsakh needed a strong result to qualify, and they started the game full of intent – particularly their surprisingly nimble winger, the stocky Marat Karapetyan, who made his presence felt on a series of marauding runs. He was nearly the game’s first casualty, however, clattering Dgbuadze to the ground and earning a yellow card for his troubles.
The well-drilled and strong Abkhazia side proved too much for Arstakh in the game’s early stages, with the potent winger Shabat Logua dominating the left flank and the robust defence smothering Artsakh’s attempts to counter.
This paid off after just 10 minutes when Logua – always deadly cutting inside – scored with a low shot past the Artsakh keeper.
Despite the best efforts of the home crowd, Artsakh were playing with increasing desperation, becoming ill-disciplined on the ball. Norik Mkrtchyan, playing in his home town in front of his own parents, made a clumsy run into the box, and responded with an even clumsier challenge on the man who stole the ball away.
Once Artsakh calmed down, they seized the momentum. Latching onto a ball played on the counter, Mkrtchyan sent a powerful shot ricocheting off the inside post and into the net – an equaliser that delighted his hometown crowd.
Artsakh closed the half high on confidence, dented only slightly when Abkhazia’s Malyaka, given a clear run on goal, seemed to have restored their lead – unfortunately for the visitors, he was well offside.
The hosts started the second half on the front foot, with fine interplay between Karapetayan and Mayriyan creating a constant threat in the Abkhazian half. However, Artsakh dithered in the middle of the field too often, and Abkhazia’s robust defenders soaked up most of their attempts to build through the centre.
Despite constant pressure – Abkhazia had few attempts in the second half – Artsakh were unable to conjure up an equaliser, and even the best efforts of Martuni’s favourite son weren’t enough to prevent Abkhazia from eliminating Artsakh from the group.