The Fall of Cyprus

Maurice Johnston’s overhead kick at Hampden, Richard Gough’s last-gasp winner in Limassol – the latter coming at the end of the kind of match Scotland fans have got so used to witnessing during these barren times.

Cyprus were the whipping boys of that group in the days before the likes of San Marino and Gibraltar assumed that mantle.

Thirty years on from those meetings, the Cypriots have not exactly exalted their place in the world of international football, even if their domineering champions, APOEL, have enjoyed relative Champions League and Europa League successes.

They are still without a major finals appearance and have only won one of their last 14 matches on the road – against Gibraltar. They also sit 89th in the Fifa rankings.

Yet, as always, there is a sense of disquiet heading into a home match that Scotland supporters expect to win and the squad know they must win after the stuttering start to the campaign under previous head coach Alex McLeish in March.

Ones to watch

Konstantinos Laifis: Plays in Belgium with Standard Liege, who he last season helped qualify for Europe for the first time in seven years. The former Olympiacos player is likely to be an important figure for Israeli coach Ran Ben Shimon and he can work across the defence and as a holder in midfield. His performances have reportedly attracted suitors from Germany and Italy.

Georgios Efrem: The Arsenal youth product’s name may ring some bells among Rangers and Dundee supporters after a two-year stint at the former and a loan spell at the latter more than a decade ago. The 29-year-old midfielder went on to star for current club APOEL in the Champions League and remains an integral part of the Cypriot champions’ squad.

Pieros Sotiriou: Missed out against Belgium in March through injury as Ben Shimon started without an out-and-out striker in a futile attempt to keep the world’s top=-ranked team at bay, although many have suffered heavier defeats than the 2-0 that befell them on the night. Sotiriou is likely to return to the fold at the top end of the pitch after helping Copenhagen wrestle the Danish title back from Midtjylland.

‘This generation of players is capable’

Simon Pafitis, Cypriot journalist with

The goal for Cyprus is qualification for the finals and they believe that, although it is a difficult group, this generation of players is capable thanks to APOEL, Apollon Limassol and AEK Larnaca’s exploits in the Europa League.

However, midfielder Grigoris Kastonos – the Juventus Under-23 captain – is injured, along with Southend United’s Jason Demetriou, fellow defenders Fotios Papoulis and Giorgos Markis, and goalkeeper Constantinos Panagi. Centre-back Dossa Junior has been dropped after starting against Belgium.

Teenage midfielders Ioannis Kosti and Michalis Ioannou have been called up along with uncapped winger Ioannis Pittas, but they are ones for the future and I don’t think they will feature against Scotland. However, I am sure striker Pieros Sotiriou will be back in the XI after being injured for the game against Belgium. And although Urko Pardo was in goal against Belgium, I would expect Neofytos Michael, who has been on loan to Giannina from APOEL, to earn his first cap.


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