Portugal vs Armenia: Berezovski aims to shut out Cristiano Ronaldo and Co

Still going strong at 40, Roman Berezovski aims to shut out Cristiano Ronaldo and Co in Faro on Friday when Armenia play Portugal, the team he faced on his debut in 1996.

The oldest player to appear in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying, Roman Berezovski will face, on Friday, the team against whom he kept a clean sheet on his Armenia debut 18 years ago: Portugal.

While Bernard Challandes’s men are bottom of Group I with a solitary point going into the fixture in Faro-Loule, all is not lost. The former Soviet republic trail section leaders Denmark, who have played at least a game more than the other four sides, by only three points.

Speaking to about the challenge of shutting out Portugal – as he did in a goalless FIFA World Cup qualifying draw in August 1996 – the 40-year-old FC Dinamo Moskva keeper said: “It will be an extremely tough game. Portugal are still one of the favourites in our group. It’s very important to cope with the pressure they exert in the first few minutes. The fans will push Portugal forward and we have to be ready for that, so we need full concentration at the back and to take our chances up front.”

The encounter with the “European Brazilians” will be the third time Berezovski – who featured against Serbia last month aged 40 years, two months and seven days – has lined up against Portugal. Though he can “hardly recall anything” about his first outing for his country, memories of his tussles with the Portuguese in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying, a 1-1 draw and particularly a 1-0 away defeat, are vivid.

“Portugal had a star-studded team,” said the former FC Zenit, FC Torpedo Moskva and FC Khimki shot-stopper. “Every player was world-famous and they were eager to prove themselves on the highest stage, but we showed great team spirit and didn’t allow them to show their superiority.”

Berezovski, Robert Arzumanyan and Edgar Manucharyan are the only survivors in Challandes’s squad from that night in November 2007, while Portugal have undergone changes of their own with Fernando Meira, Maniche and Simão long since retired from international football. Still, the Iberian nation remain a force to be reckoned with.

“Players come and go, but Portugal are always strong,” noted Berezovski, capped 90 times. “They call them the European Brazilians for a reason. Like everyone else who meets Portugal, we should be aware of Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world’s best.”

Armenia’s standing in the group would be significantly better had Zoran Tošić not salvaged Serbia a 1-1 draw in Yerevan last time out with an 89th-minute equaliser. His hand weaker on that occasion for the absence of five key players, Challandes is without only FC Spartak Moskva midfielder Aras Özbiliz for Armenia’s third match in the campaign’s sole five-team pool.

“Our lineup is really good,” said Berezovski. “We played our last match without some leading players yet still showed we are capable of scoring goals and collecting points – but obviously Yura Movsisyan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan play a huge role for us.”

With just a handful of points separating first and last in Group I and the top two qualifying automatically for UEFA EURO 2016, Berezovski is dreaming of a possible swansong to his career the summer after next. “In our group every team can beat the other. I believe in our chances. The battle for a place in France will go until the final round of games. The main thing for us ahead of any match is to know we are capable of taking points off anyone.”

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