A trip to Eastern Europe awaits Liverpool

Fans of FK Rabotnicki

“We are in for two tough games,” said newly appointed Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson after hearing the news that his new team would begin their Europa League campaign against FK Rabotnicki of Macedonia or Mika of Armenia. So, Liverpool are either playing an evil genius from the Sonic games or a high-pitched singer from south of the Watford gap. Testing then.

The Armenians hail from the capital city, Yerevan, a beautiful city along the Turkish border where the statue of Mother Armenia now stands resolute in the place where the public felled the callous grin of Stalin. They have not hailed from the capital city for long, however. Mika relocated from the nearby city of Ashtarak in 2007. The city, 20km from Yervan, is an industrial hub of Armenia located along the left bank of the Kasagh River. The Yerevan side have proved more successful than their English counterparts in recent years with five Armenian cups and an Armenian Super Cup cementing their place amongst the most decorated Armenian sides.

That success contributed to the completion of the new Mika Stadium in 2007 an 8000 capacity, all-seater stadium in Yerevan that made the transition from Ashtarak to Yerevan all the more comfortable. The Armenians, who boast the innocuous mantle of having two former Real Madrid youth players in their squad, have not enjoyed success in continental competitions. The 1-0 defeat in the first leg to Rabotnicki compounded the misery of claiming only one win in eight European attempts. If Liverpool are to lose their way in Eastern Europe it may be due to the potent menace of Boti Demel, the 21-year-old Ivory Coast striker. Demel, who had a short spell with Portuguese giants Benifca, has been in good form for the Yerevan side, netting seventeen goals in twenty-one starts. His pace and direct threat may cause the aging Jamie Carragher some trouble.

The Mika Stadium

Before any of the hypothetical jousting can occur, Mika must overcome a 1-0 deficit from a monotonous and strained first leg. Rabotnicki, another capital city club, have succeeded in dominating the recent Macedonian game, winning three of the last five championships. The Skopje club have also fared well in continental competition this year as they overcame Lusitanos of Andorra 11-0 in the last round of the Europa League. Rabotnicki’s squad features six Brazilians, one of which, Wandeir, has recently taken Macedonian citizenship and is now free to line-up alongside Goran Pandev for the national team.

Hodgson who confessed to not “know much about Mika” will be seeking a safe passage through to the next round but if his best laid plans do come unstuck, Gerrard and Torres won’t be the first glamorous stars to fall by the wayside in the uncompromising theatre of Eastern Europe.


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