France are left stunned from late leveller after shocking performance
Cyprus were the final of the five Group 5 participants to make their qualification bow, and they did so with a home fixture against no less an opponent than France. ‘Les bleus’ were looking to go top of the qualification pool with four points from two matches, but could not take anything for granted even if the opposition was supposedly of inferior character. The Cypriots would swap between Limassol and Nicosia for home venue, and today the game would take place in Makáreio in the country’s capital. This was the eleventh qualifier throughout history to take place here.
France had failed to win either of their four away qualifiers in their last pool, in qualification for the 1988 European Championships, so their previous away win in a telling game had come just over four years earlier, when they’d defeated Luxembourg 4-0 in their first qualifier for the 1986 World Cup. They were looking to maintain a 100 % start to their current campaign, having won 1-0 against Norway less than a month earlier.
The table after the group’s first three matches:
Cyprus team news
Embarking on yet another qualification campaign, Cyprus could’ve been forgiven for having modest ambitions. From 38 previous World Cup qualifiers, they’d lost no less than 36! The two games where they’d avoided defeat had yielded a 1-0 home win against Northern Ireland back in 1973, in qualification for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, as well as a 1-1 home draw with Israel in 1960, in their very first official international. Needless to say, they’d failed to reach Chile ’62.
France appeared to be a formidable opponent to the Cypriots, despite their obvious decline on the international stage. The home team’s manager also needed to approach the match without a good few players who had appeared more or less regularly in their previous qualification campaign, when they’d collected a hugely surprising point through a 0-0 draw in Poland, and also losing narrowly on other occasions. Could they get something from a France team going through a rebuilding phase?
Among the 16 chosen for Iakovou’s matchday squad, eight hailed from their domestic league’s eventual top two Omonia (Nicosia) and Apollon (Limassol). In addition, APOEL, also from the capital, had four representatives. The two goalkeepers selected were 36 year old Georgos Pantziaras and rookie Andreas Petridis, who had yet to make his international debut. For whatever reason, Omonia’s Andreas Kharitou (26), who had played six of their eight qualifiers last time around, was absent.
Defenders in the squad were the domestically experienced Konstantinos Miamiliotis and Andreas Stavrou from APOEL, Giorgos Khristodoulou of Omonia, and “Pambos” Pittas from Apollon. There was also Spyros Kastanas of Ethnikos Akhnas, and possibly others too could hold defensive positions. However, very few of these had much international experience to talk about, as there was only Miamiliotis who had (since long) surpassed double caps figures. Should he be selected, this would be his 30th international.
In midfield, Cyprus could draw on their most seasoned international campaigner in Apollon’s Giannakis Yiangoudakis. He was a guaranteed starter, and he already had 37 caps to his name now at the age of 29. Other candidates for midfield roles were Pavlos Savva, one of two players from AEL Limassol, Floros Nikolaou of Nea Salamis (Famagusta), and possible debutant Kostas Petsas of champions elect Omonia. It is thought that also Antonis Antrellis could hold a midfield as well as a defensive position. Behind Cyprus’ perennial captain Yiangoudakis, Nikolaou was the internationally most acclaimed performer with 13 appearances.
There were two candidates for the front roles who both hailed from Omonia in the moustached pair Andreas Kantilos and Evagoras Khristofi. They held eight caps between them. Giannos Ioannou and Panikos Orfanidis were further alternatives, and the former had started three out of their eight qualifiers in their previous campaign. Stunningly, no player in the squad had scored more than a single goal at international level.
Three players looked to have opted out, as they would never again appear for the national team: Panagiotis Marangos (28, APOEL), Loizos Mauroudis (28, AEL) and Dimitris Misos (30, APOEL). They had all featured heavily during the Cypriots’ previous qualification campaign. As had players such as goalkeeper Andreas Kharitou (Omonia), Giorgos Savvidis (27, AEK Nea Filadelfia), Marios Tsingis (29, Aris Limassol) and Makis Sokratous (27, AEL), of which neither was anywhere to be seen on this occasion. It is difficult to say what the reason for the various players’ absence was. It could well have been that manager Panikos Iakovou prefered other candidates ahead of the missing ones, or, indeed, injuries could have mounted ahead of this fixture.
France team news
France had received some amounts of criticism for their most recent displays, and the 1-1 friendly home draw with Czechoslovakia just prior to kicking off the qualification campaign had been particularly disappointing. Not because Czechoslovakia were a poor side, but because the French display had left a lot to be desired. Two points in their qualification opener at home to Norway had been required, and in a display which had been far more positive than the earlier friendly, they’d delievered, even if they’d had to wait until five minutes from the end to get the all important goal when Papin had ferociously struck home a penalty.
Manager Henri Michel had named precisely the same matchday squad as last time around; there were no changes among the 16. In Paris, France had been set up in an attacking 4-3-3, and in what seemed a winnable away fixture, did it not seem likely that they would adapt the same tactics once again?
Joël Bats had kept goal last time around, and though he had split the position with Bruno Martini in France’s friendlies earlier in the year, the manager had persevered with the custodian who had been his first choice in the 1986 World Cup when it mattered.
The four players who had made up the French defensive line against the Norwegians had been Luc Sonor at right-back, Basile Boli as libero behind Bernard Casoni in the heart of the defence, and then team captain Manuel Amoros to the left. Should Michel stick with four men again, it would most likely be the same quartet, even if Sylvain Kastendeuch could fit in almost all across the backline.
The midfield three had last time out been made up of Franck Sauzée and Marcel Dib to either side of Gérald Passi, who had featured as their playmaker in the centre of the trio. Dib had performed the more defensive duties, with Sauzée a two-way midfielder. Passi had not always been spot on in his passing against Norway, and he’d need to step up this time if he were to continue in this pivotal role in the ‘Bleus’ team. Further options were Jean-Philippe Rohr and Philippe Vercruysse. A three man midfield appeared to be on the cards yet again.
So, that would leave the two Daniels, Xuereb and Bravo, to once again play as support acts for Jean-Pierre Papin in a three-pronged frontline. The alternative here was Stéphane Paille, an aerially strong centre-forward, who had had a fine cameo against Norway in which he’d won the penalty that resulted in the winning goal.
All in all, it was a decent squad, perhaps with some shortcomings in the creative department, but it was a physically well equipped group of players, and they seemed defensively capable, too, even if they were hardly expected to endure spells of sustained pressure against when taking to the field in Nicosia.
42 year old Spaniard Emilio Soriano Aladrén was making his eighth international appearance since his debut on January 30 1985. It was his fifth European Championships or World Cup qualifier, and he’d officiated in the summer’s continental championships in West Germany: Aladrén had taken charge of the group stage game between the Republic of Ireland and the Soviet Union in Hannover, a game which had ended 1-1. He had never previously refereed either of tonight’s two countries.
Cyprus and France had also been paired in the same qualifying group ahead of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, when the French had decimated their opponents on both occasions: It had ended with a 7-0 away win in Limassol, while the return leg in Paris had seen a further four French goals with no reply from the Cypriots. No Frenchmen were left since then, but the hosts had defender Kostas Miamiliotis and midfielder Giannakis Yiangoudakis still remaining. Current Cyprus goalkeeper Giorgos Pantziaras had kept goal in that 7-0 mauling (but not in the return fixture). It should also be noted that tonight’s France manager Henri Michel had played the full match in Limassol, the final of his 58 internationals.
|1 Giorgos Pantziaras
|2 Kharalambos Pittas
|3 Konstantinos Miamiliotis
|4 Giorgos Khristodoulou
|5 Andreas Stavrou
|6 Giannakis Yiangoudakis (c)
|7 Andreas Kantilos
|8 Pavlos Savva
|9 Konstantinos Petsas
|10 Floros Nikolaou
|11 Evagoras Khristofi
|12 Andreas Petridis
|13 Antonis Antrellis
|14 Spyros Kastanas
|15 Panikos Orfanidis
|16 Giannos Ioannou
|1 Joël Bats
|2 Manuel Amoros (c)
|3 Luc Sonor
|4 Bernard Casoni
|5 Basile Boli
|6 Marcel Dib
|7 Daniel Bravo
|8 Franck Sauzée
|9 Jean-Pierre Papin
|10 Gérald Passi
|11 Daniel Xuereb
|12 Sylvain Kastendeuch
|13 Jean-Philippe Rohr
|14 Philippe Vercruysse
|15 Stéphane Paille
|16 Bruno Martini
Judging from the sparsely populated terraces, France did not appear to have much appeal to the Nicosians. With this a Saturday evening kick-off, the locals seemed to have made other arrangements, though those who had arrived would see their team kick the first half into action. They would proceed through their captain Giannakis Yiangoudakis and Evagoras Khristofi once señor Emilio Soriano Aladrén had sounded his whistle.
The opening sequences of play are unremarkable, and the game sets off in what was pretty much an expected pattern: with France in possession. The Cypriots retreat quite deep back into their own half, where they sit and wait for the visitors’ attacking play. France had been showing glimpses of imagination in the home fixture against Norway, even if they had at times been struggling with their creativity. In particular their supposedly strongest creative outlet, Toulouse’s 24 year old midfield man Gérald Passi, here seen making his eleventh international appearance, had too often failed to live up to demands, and he had been substituted at a point during the second half.
The left-footed midfielder had been operating in the heart of their three man engine room on that occasion, though it would seem from the word ‘go’ that he had taken up a much more left-sided role here in Nicosia. By all means, Passi possessed a pretty talented left foot, and he did have the vision to spot a runner either ahead of him or in more central positions, but it would appear that sometimes he could take a touch or two too many, and so in the process slow attacking play down. If France were to stretch this defensively compact opponent, they would need to do so through the means of as few touches as possible, in order to move the ball around at pace.
With this Cyprus’ opening qualifier, there was naturally a level of excitement to see what they could possibly offer. Did they have it in them to cause an upset against arguably an opponent of a much greater pedigree? They’d lost heavily to the same opposition twice ahead of the 1982 World Cup, and if they were ever to get something from a clash with the French, you felt that tonight was the occasion. With the terraces so poorly populated, it is hard to say that there seemed to be a great aura of expectancy around the Makáreio, but the plucky home side nevertheless retreated back inside their own territory to wait for the visitors to have a dig. Possibly, even the Cypriots themselves could’ve been a little unsure as to what they had to offer. They’d just played once so far in the calendar year, when they’d lost that ‘islands friendly’ against Malta ten days earlier. While we have no video evidence from that particular game, it is a fair assumption to make that they had been set up pretty identically tactics-wise as tonight, something which had meant a five man strong defensive line. Yet, the opposition tonight was of a different calibre, even if plenty had been said already about France’s decline since their fine tournaments earlier in the decade through to the 1986 bronze medals in Mexico.
There had been little evidence early on that Cyprus had wanted to take the game to the French. However, there had been a couple of times when they’d ventured into the visitors’ half of the pitch, even if little had come of it. Still, one was left with the feeling that any attacking play was down to chance rather than anything pre-meditated, and so France rarely needed to break sweat when they had some defending to do.
If there were individual players to look out for in the Cypriot team, it had to be 29 year old Giannakis Yiangoudakis. The lean-framed, moustached midfield man seemed to be equipped with a decent left foot, and in the early passages of play he had orientated himself towards the left hand side of midfield. He was a feature for Limassol club Apollon, and in winning his 38th cap, he was easily the most experienced home player at an international level. However, like so many of his compatriots, he hardly posed a goal threat in this climate: No Cypriot had ever scored more than once when performing for their country. With clean sheets so difficult for them to come by, this would most likely need to be addressed tonight should they get something out of the tie.
There’s a couple of early goal threats from the visitors, although there’s nothing truly major. Passi does appear to slide through the home defence until he’s tackled last ditch in the area by home libero Miamiliotis, and then there’s a side-footed effort from close range by Papin after Sonor’s first appearance deep inside Cypriot territory. The right-back had fed France’s matchwinner from their opening qualifier a near post cross, and it had taken a quick save low to his left by goalkeeper Pantziaras to divert the ball away for a France right wing corner.
While the first ten minutes had failed to deliever much in terms of quality, it is scarcely so that the next ten minute period serves up a feast for the spectators. The game is not allowed to settle into any kind of rhythm, as there is countless free-kicks in the middle of the park. And with the game so often disrupted by little breaks, this does little to promote French creativity. They seem a little bewildered by the uneven flow, unable to unlock the tight home defence. Another thing is that there is no space to knock forward balls into for the visitors, as Cyprus defend so deep they’re practically always with at least an outfield player inside their own penalty area. Not that the French are prolific in hitting early balls in the direction of their strikers, but they do attempt so a couple of times, needless to say with little success. The Cypriots have adapted man-marking tactics, and should either of Papin or Xuereb manage to win in the air and flick the ball on, there’s little initiative from the French midfield to attempt runs which could’ve seen them harvest from any of their forwards’ touches.
The pitch seems hard, often giving the ball a big bounce, and this is another point which strikes you to favour the hosts. It is unlikely that the turf had had any amounts of water on it during the day, so any potential slick play was nipped in the bud, so to speak. The game picture through to 20 minutes of the first half would’ve suited the hosts very well.
A closer look at: Cyprus
Speaking of Cyprus, it is quite clear that they have appeared in a 5-3-2 formation. Between the sticks, they have their selection’s oldest player in Apollon custodian Giorgos Pantziaras, aged 36. This is his 18th international appearance, and that near post save from Papin’s early flick apart, he had had little to do in terms of work thus far. He’d been out punching away a Passi free-kick into the box, and he did seem quite alert. Yet, the French would need to test his mettle, and despite the edgy opening to the game, you were left with a feeling that Pantziaras would later have to show his worth.
Ahead of the goalkeeper was Iakovou’s five man defensive line, in which libero Kostas Miamiliotis featured as the more central figure. Playing in shirt number 3, the APOEL defender was Cyprus’ second most capped player among their eleven on the night, and if early indications were anything to go by, he was a sound reader of the game, making an early vital tackle on Passi in the box, and also dishing out another fine block just outside his own area a bit later on. He operated behind the two man-markers at the heart of their defence, which were Andreas Stavrou and Giorgos Khristodoulou. Quite remarkably, both were only making their second international appearances, and neither had featured in the recent Malta friendly. Stavrou, aged 30, seemed to look after Papin, while the seven years younger Khristodoulou was keeping an eye on Xuereb. The two man-markers would rarely let their direct opponents out of sight, and in particular Khristodoulou appeared to be a robust figure. Stavrou had gone down in need of treatment inside his own area early on, and he had also once been guilty of fouling Papin just to the right of the Cyprus penalty area, almost by the touchline.
Even if it is fair to say that the home side’s formation was 5-3-2, right-sided player Pavlos Savva, a 23 year old of AEL Limassol, would often be seen higher in the pitch than his team mate across the pitch to the left. Savva would occasionally lend his support should Cyprus be so daring that they thrusted forward, and he seemed to be equipped with a sound engine, something which saw him cover a lot of grass. He would stick to his right hand side throughout, and rarely venture out of position. In what was his tenth appearance in a Cyprus jersey, he seemed someone that the manager could truly rely on. The same could by all means be said about left-back ‘Pambos’ Pittas. The 22 year old, one of three Apollon players in their starting eleven, seemed to concentrate more on outright defensive duties than his wide compatriot, and he appeared to relish a battle with whomever wanted to try and take him on. Perhaps was he not the quickest on two feet, and so he would need to compensate through good positioning. Pittas had a capable left foot on him, though he was not often seen inside enemy territory, so it was not as if Cyprus used this as an attacking weapon.
In midfield, the three home players featuring were Floros Nikolaou, Kostas Petsas and skipper Giannakis Yiangoudakis. Of the three, the latter was clearly the one with the greatest level of attacking freedom, and it is fair to say that he was operating ahead of the two others, who both seemed to be of more defensive nature. Yiangoudakis would from time to time engage himself towards the left hand side of the pitch, something which was far from unnatural for a left-footed player. He would be seen swinging a couple of crosses into the penalty area, although there were few team mates to aim for. Thus, even Yiangoudakis’ trusty left foot failed to cause much stir in the French defence.
Petsas was in fact making his very first international appearance, and perhaps were there signs of some early nerves in his play. Certainly, his defensive midfield partner Nikolaou was the more contributive one of the two in the early stages, as the Famagusta man either put himself about or attempted passes in forward direction. Petsas did seem to struggle to get into the game so far, often left chasing shadows. It could also be noticed how Nikolaou would rarely stray too far away from Gérald Passi.
Up front, Cyprus had two players who from a distance, and certainly through what was hardly high definition images, looked quite alike: Andreas Kantilos and Evagoras Khristofi were both moustached, and 24 and 27 years respectively, they were also Omonia Nicosia team mates at club level. Kantilos was another player who had been brought into the side following the loss against Malta, though this was only his second international appearance. Khristofi, who would perhaps mirror the more static figure among the pair, had previously featured in seven internationals. He would often be drawn towards the left hand side of the pitch, whilst Kantilos seemed more flexible and to be using greater areas of the attacking half as his workplace. Khristofi was one of just four Cypriot starters who had ever scored at international level, all of them just once previously. They were hardly a side promising a lot of goals.
Still Cyprus hold their own
France continue in failing to take the game to the hosts. As the first half reaches the 30 minute mark, there is little to suggest a gulf in quality between the two. With the hosts being part-timers, one could’ve been forgiven for thinking that France would assert greater domination the longer the period went on, but the lack of fluidity is what is the most eye-catching. Despite posing a decent number of players who have shone at international level before, the visitors are desperately stale in their approach play. What had been bits and parts of their previous match in terms of lack in creativity was by now evident for any onlooker: France seemed a distinctly mediocre team. They had been reduced to working their socks off in order to gain advance on their opponents, though they failed to produce moments of clarity which could stretch the home defence to its limits. The Cypriots were playing according to their tactics and their capability, and they must have been delighted with how the game was unfolding.
In depth: France
France boss Henri Michel had picked exactly the same eleven which had taken to the field in Paris less than a month earlier, but despite this fact, there were some tactical twists to his plot this time around. Whilst the French had clearly lined up in an attacking 4-3-3 in Parc des Princes, it was now just as obvious that they had switched to 4-4-2. It should be said that in lining up with these exact players, the formation used in their home fixture with Norway had seemed to suit them a whole lot better than what the somewhat tactically restricted 4-4-2 formation offered here in Cyprus.
Again in goal was Joël Bats, the 31 year old from Paris Saint-Germain. He had once again made Bruno Martini sit among the substitutes. So even if the pair had had precisely the same amount of game time in the friendlies leading up to the qualification, Bats had been the one elected once the serious matters had begun. This was Bats’ 42nd cap, something which easily ranked him second among the French on the night. He was probably a goalkeeper whose strengths were predominantly on the line. When he would be tested aerially he did not always seem as confident.
The four man defensive line had exactly the same outlook as a few weeks earlier in the French capital: Luc Sonor, 26 years of Monaco, held the right-back position, although whilst he had only sparingly been used in a forward capacity against the Norwegians, it did appear as he had more attacking freedom on this occasion. He was of solid frame, and he possessed a decent amount of pace. He’d earlier provided a fine near post cross for Papin, though one felt that he could’ve contributed even more inside the Cypriots’ half of the pitch. Opposite from Sonor, to the left in the French four man defensive line, was their talisman Manuel Amoros. Making his 57th international appearance, Sonor’s Monaco team mate was by far the more internationally acclaimed among the French players. Whatmore: He was still only 26 years of age. One felt that Amoros had been around for ages, but he would still appear to have his finest years ahead of him. Equally at home right and left in defence, Amoros was someone who was at his best when he could venture forward. He had been a big attacking asset against the Norwegians, although on this occasion he would enjoy considerably less success when crossing the halfway line.
Among the two players in the heart of the French defence was colossal libero Basile Boli of Auxerre, just 21 years and already making his 15th international. He was with the physique of someone a few years his senior, and he truly relished a battle. He would not advance so often into enemy territory from his spare central defensive position, and perhaps should he have been used more frequently as an attacking capacity to cause bewilderment in the home defence. Alongside him, Boli had the robust, left-footed Bernard Casoni. The 27 year old Matra Racing stopper was establishing himself as an international player, and despite him also carrying decent build, he was not far away from being tagged as a ‘cultured’ defender. He could play along the ground, although he could be exposed out of position, as speed in returning was not his greatest forte.
Opposed to the midfield three which Michel had opted for the visit of Norway, the France manager had decided to go with four across the middle on this occasion. It is difficult to say why, as they were up against an opponent which they had been expected to dominate quite heavily. Would not an extra forward option have been preferable? Instead, he had shuffled around the players who had featured in midfield last time around, most notably moving Gérald Passi out towards the left hand side. Passi was clearly someone who wanted to be in the centre of attention, wishing to be on the ball to spray his passes in the forward direction. He was far from being utilised as a wing player; he could be classified as an inverted left-sided midfield man on this occasion. He enjoyed a touch or two on the ball, occasionally even several touches, and he would at times appear to slow play down, something which was clearly no way to go about an opponent such as Cyprus. It could indeed be argued exactly what good Passi brought to the team, and switching him out into a more peripheral role for this clash, perhaps the idea had even struck Michel’s mind.
In the centre, France had Marcel Dib, the 28 year old Monaco war horse, alongside the youthful Franck Sauzée, 22 years of Marseille. They were both novices at international level, although both had played the full 90 minutes of their qualification opener. Dib would be the one accepting greater defensive responsibility, and he seemed to appear behind and slightly to the left of Sauzée. This was as opposed to his somewhat right-sided, yet central defensive midfield interpretation against the Scandinavians the previous month. Sauzée, for all his workrate and ability to strike the ball as hard as anyone, he was hardly someone with plenty of moments of creativity, and so part of the explanation for the French’ lack of midfield imagination so far in the game could lie here. At times, Passi had wanted to come towards the centre, although from a deep position, and he would be looking to angle a pass long. It had yet to prove efficient.
The fourth player in the French midfield was Daniel Bravo, the versatile 25 year old from Nice, making his 11th appearance for ‘les bleus’. Bravo was working to the right in midfield, and though it could be said how he had also been a right-sided player in their previous game, it was clear that on this occasion he was operating much deeper than he had done in Paris. So why was this? It did seem strange, as France had clearly had some of their best moments against Norway when Bravo and Xuereb had appeared in tandem along the right. Not that this was impossible here too, as Bravo still had some freedom in coming forward. However, he seemed to have to make do with Sonor as his attacking compatriot along the right on this occasion, even if Daniel Xuereb, now playing as one of two strikers, would have the opportunity to move about. Xuereb, who had been ever so lively in Parc des Princes, was far more stationary here in Nicosia, and this was definitely a blow to French attacking play. Bravo would often sit 15-20 yards deeper than he had been a few weeks earlier, and Xuereb would be unable to recreate his form. This seemed to throw a lot of attacking responsibility into Jean-Pierre Papin’s path. With 16 caps, the Marseille man was internationally the third most meritted France performer on the night, and he had had that early attempt on the near post from Sonor’s cross. However, so often struggling to break free from his marker Stavrou, Papin had since not posed much of a goal threat.
Cyprus are starting to feel confident
As there’s less than 15 minutes until the half-time break, do Cyprus get increasingly brave and thrust more men forward? Well, it is an exaggeration to say that they go gung-ho at any stage during the first period. However, having contained the French very well up until this point, one is left with the feeling that they are beginning to eye a chance of an upset, even if there’s almost an hour left on the clock. Having overcome the scare of a long range drive wide low to the left of Pantziaras’ goal from France midfielder Passi, Cyprus can at times be seen inside the visitors’ half with four and perhaps even five men simultaneously. There’s obviously the front two, of which Kantilos and Khristofi by now are exchanging sides from time to time, who continue to keep the French defence on their toes, and in addition there’s the ever so hard-working Savva along the right hand side who will arrive at a couple of opportunities for long range shots, even if they’re both dreadfully disappointingly struck, and so pose no threat whatsoever to Bats. Yiangoudakis had probably gone off the boil a little, having been more influental earlier in the half, and so they are rather having left-back Pittas cross the halfway line on a few occasions. He’s clearly in possession of a steady left foot, and he will use this tool to launch passes into the left sided channel for either of Kantilos or Khristofi to chase. Cyprus might not have individuals of world class pedigree, but they appear to have a sound team spirit within their camp.
The first half sees two bookings in quick succession, one for either team. First up is Cyprus’ debutant Kostas Petsas, who savagely fouls Daniel Xuereb as the French forward is making a burst along the right hand side, attempting to get into position either for a cross or to have a final go at a defender inside the area. Just a minute later, the same Petsas plays another ball into the left sided channel for Khristofi to chase, and as the foward’s fouled by Basile Boli, the away team libero sees yellow and concedes a free-kick in a decent position for the hosts. However, they’re unable to make much of it, as Pittas’ cross into the box is easily dealt with by the French defence.
France break the deadlock
As both players and fans alike are beginning to prepare for the half-time break, with some largely uneventful moments having gone by, perhaps with the exception of a thunderous 25 yard effort from France midfielder Sauzée a few yards over and wide on 38 minutes, the visitors all of a sudden move ahead. For once, Papin got the better of Stavrou in the air, as the ball came down after an up and under headed clerance by Khristodoulou from Sauzée’s ball into the box from the right. France’s number 9 triumphed against Stavrou as he had momentum coming into the challenge, and his header made its way to the head of strike partner Xuereb, who perfectly found the back of the net despite a half-hearted challenge from libero Miamiliotis. An unconvincing, uninspired France had gone a goal up with a minute and a half to go in the first period. For all of Cyprus’ efforts, they’d have to conjure up something for the second half if they were not to fall to yet another defeat. The feeling of going behind must have been all too familiar for their gallant players.
France end the half with their tails up, and Papin even threaten to have another effort on goal, although left-back Pittas can eventually clear the home side’s lines before the ace marksman can make contact with the ball after Xuereb’s cross from the left and Stavrou’s attempted headed clearance.
Half-time: Cyprus 0, France 1.
With the two teams back in action, a few seconds have passed of the second half as we make our re-entry. It can quickly be established that neither side has made changes in personnel, and so the same starting 22 will go at it again. The interesting perspective is whether the goal just before the interval will play major bearings on the outlook of the game. France had clearly had the majority of first half possession, but they had rarely been able to do much with it, and the late goal must have felt as a kick in the teeth for the hosts. Cyprus had battled well, and their efforts had probably warranted half time parity.
In the early exchanges, there’s very little suggesting that the game is about to take a turn for the better quality wise. A pattern pretty much identical to what had been going on in the first period surfaced, and the massive favourites were unable to get any kind of rhythm or fluidity in their game. As had been hinted about earlier, the bumpy pitch surely had to carry its part of the responsibility, though the hosts kept fighting well to fend the visitors off. Judging by the opening 50 minutes, Cyprus had nothing to be embarrassed about. They kept plucking away, limiting the visitors any amount of attacking space, defending wisely and in numbers. In fact, they did not even need to exert themselves by the look of things. In terms of quality, the opening of the second half was almost a farce. That was until Franck Sauzée, who had once tested his shooting boots in the first half, decided to have another go at goal, this time with his left foot. He’d received a pass from Passi and advanced a few yards before he struck from a long distance, forcing goalkeeper Pantziaras into a smart save low down to his left. The rebound was dealt with by central defender Stavrou, who conceded a France right wing corner.
As a playmaker, Gérald Passi had not succeeded to take the French’s previous qualifier by the scruff of the neck, and now, in a more peripheral role out wide to the left, he was hardly carrying the tie on his shoulders again. The two central midfielders, Sauzée and Dib, saw a lot of the ball in the opening quarter of an hour in the second half, but neither had sufficient vision to deliever a telling forward pass. They were sound in battle; both were robust and solid. However, from a team of France’s pedigree, so much more was expected. It was understandable how they could’ve been booed by their home audience during that 1-1 friendly against Czechoslovakia in August, if they’d dished out something along similar lines then. They did seem in control of the fixture, as Cyprus were rarely threatening inside the French half, or indeed even attempting to cross the halfway line with much conviction, but should not France have had this game finished off already? There had been a tame Passi header from Bravo’s right wing free-kick, but neither Papin nor Xuereb had managed to cause any trouble since the break. France looked vastly uninspired, and seemed almost to be going through the motions. It would just take a sole lapse defensively to invite the hosts back into it.
A surprise run to break the monotony
The home side were content still sitting back. Obviously, at some point they would need to increase their level of risk and gradually abandon their defensive stance, but hitherto they were not changing anything tactic wise. They would just need a break or a set-piece to drop their way, albeit during the first 20 minutes of the second period there’s few hints of a sensational Cyprus goal. Instead, they come very close to conceding a second when Passi, who had recently begun to arrive more frequently in the centre of the pitch, in a somewhat retracted position, spotted Marcel Dib making a rare run deep into enemy territory. In fact, even the eventuality of one of France’s two central midfielders making runs into the deep had seemed distant, and so no one had bothered to look after the long-haired Monaco player. He received Passi’s fine pass and advanced undisturbed towards the edge of the penalty area, where he struck right-footed from a central position. Dib did not hit it well, and the ball almost trickled loosely into the arms of Pantziaras, who must have been fearing a lot worse when an opponent had been given the chance to strike from such range. It was a wasted opportunity, and one could not help but thinking that things could’ve turned out differently had it been Sauzée making that run instead of Dib. The problem was only that Sauzée had shown just as little interest in making runs through the deep as Dib previously.
Hosts leave little print
There were few Cypriots who stood out individually, at least when in possession. Libero Kostas Miamiliotis had predominantly kept himself busy mopping up behind his two fellow central defenders, and he had done reasonably well, but he had had few daring moments on the ball. However, he would show when under pressure from Amoros that he had cute awareness, and he did not panic when faced hard by an onrushing opponent. Deep inside his own half he kept the ball intact at his feet as he rounded the French captain and delievered an upfield pass.
Still, the home side were totally incapable of mounting any level of sustained pressure. Their sporadic ventures forward were very soon easily dealt with by the French defensive, as their team too easily was stretched, and the distance between their midfield and the front two was almost constantly large. Even if either of Kantilos or Khristofi had the ball played up to them, they were unable to hold it up long enough to bring others into action. Cyprus’ central midfield three remained fairly static, with Nikolaou and Petsas typically busy denying the visitors space inside their own half, and Yiangoudakis unable to leave any print on proceedings whatsoever.
France become the first team to make a change when Michel decides to withdraw Gérald Passi for Marseille’s 26 year old midfield man Philippe Vercruysse. This was the third successive international in which the Toulouse man had been substituted. In coming on for his eleventh cap, Vercruysse, who had played his part with two substitute appearances as well as a starting role in the third place play-off game against Belgium during the 1986 World Cup, would hopefully bring something different to the French side. Passi had often been monitored by Cyprus midfielder Nikolaou when coming into more central positions, and would the same be the case for Vercruysse? The clock was approaching 71 minutes by the time of the OM man’s introduction.
A more inspired France at last
Whether or not it was the appearance of Vercruysse which seemed to spark some life into the French, fact is that they had begun to come forward at greater pace. Vercruysse certainly slotted into the heart of their midfield, but in an attacking capacity, with Dib clearly retreating into a more defensive role again. Vercruysse’s Marseille team mates Sauzée and Papin even looked to have found some inspiration from their compatriot’s introduction, and in particular the striker, who had looked pedestrian all night, started moving into the channels. They got into a couple of crossing positions from the right, but they were not allowed any attempts at goal due to fine defending by the hosts.
Cyprus decide to withdraw striker Evagoras Khristofi and bring on a replacement forward in the shape of Giannos Ioannou with less than a quarter of an hour to go. They’d just won a free-kick halfway inside the French half after a clumsy handball by Basile Boli, who had tried to prevent Pavlos Savva’s forward ball from reaching Khristofi. This will prove very costly to the visitors, as the Cypriots bring one straight from the training ground: Yiangoudakis chips the ball over the defensive wall, and inside the area Daniel Bravo is left to deal with striker Andreas Kantilos. The art of defending is clearly not forward Bravo’s greatest asset, and as he wrestles Kantilos to the ground, the referee is left with no option other than awarding a penalty to the home side. Cyprus have a fine penalty taker, at club level at least, in left-back ‘Pambos’ Pittas, and he strikes home left-footed in decisive manner for his first ever goal internationally as the hosts draw level with twelve minutes left on the clock. This is quite a sensational turn of events, and now the French need to draw inspiration from their recent forward ventures to recapture the lead.
A second French substitution
Michel’s response was to replace the disappointing Daniel Xuereb with a different type of striker in Sochaux’ Stéphane Paille. The 23 year old had come on to good effect in the 1-0 win against Norway, where he had been instrumental in getting the decisive penalty, and the France supremo was surely hoping for something identical again.
It seemed obvious that some desperation had already crept into their game, as their sole purpose by now was aiming it long for Paille to win in the air. He would be up against central defender Khristodoulou, who had previously dealt efficiently with Xuereb, but who was also no mug in the air, and so gave Paille a run for the money whenever a ball came in their direction. France had looked flexible just prior to the equalizer, but now they appeared to be shellshocked, and in taking Xuereb off, they were left with desperately little movement off the ball, no matter how static Xuereb at times had been. One could in fact question the composition of the team, and this was beginning to get critical, as a sole point in Nicosia threatened to leave the French chasing shadows, even if they were joint top of the table with the Scottish at this point. There was still time to get that precious winner, but they would need to act fast.
Game peters out
Stunningly, there is to be no late winner for the visitors. They never manage to get going again having conceded from that penalty, and the sole effort they muster is when Franck Sauzée has a 30 yard effort just wide from the outside of his right foot having been set up by Marcel Dib. France do not manage to find any cohesion to mount a telling attack; they even appear to have little urgency in the final moments. It is like they’ve accepted their fate, and their fate is one which will reverberate around the footballing world and put the French to shame. As the full-time whistle sounds, the home players put their arms in the air to celebrate a quite sensational point, whereas the visiting players are left with little but shame. They might have taken three points from their opening two qualifiers, but they had both been games which they’d been expected to win, and conceding a point in Nicosia would probably never even have crossed their mind. Their levels of arrogance and complacency, however, contributed to pin their downfall.
There had been two very late bookings. Towards the end, the host players were certainly more than pleased with how things were going, and so they would take any opportunity to delay proceedings, with both central defenders, firstly Stavrou then Khristodoulou, guilty of faking injury to kill off time. Stavrou had gone down claiming he’d been struck by Papin, though it was just a minor scuffle, even if the referee decided to produce a yellow card for both.
The game took place on a pitch which seemed hard and dry, and the first half saw few moments of quality. The French were almost constantly in possession, but they failed to produce moments of class to unlock the very deep home side, and defending became very doable for the Cypriots. France had little vision in the centre of their midfield, and up top, neither Papin nor Xuereb were interested in making much movement off the ball. For all their possession, France had failed to seriously test Pantziaras, though they would be in front at half-time courtesy of a late Xuereb header. In the second half, more of the same followed; it was a dismal French performance, devoid of pace and ideas. Cyprus clearly accepted their status as underdogs, and they would get their one shot at goal when Bravo foolishly brought Kantilos down for a late penalty, with left-back Pittas striking home from 12 yards. The visitors never seriously threatened to retake their lead, and a shock result was the outcome.
1 Pantziaras 7.0
could he have done better for the goal? Wrong-footed, maybe? Stopped Sauzée’s early second half long range drive, and came out and punched well. Gave a solid impression
2 Pittas 7.2
an increasingly influental player along the left hand side as the game progressed. Strong in the tackle, sometimes even a bit over the top, and tucked away his penalty delightfully
3 Miamiliotis 7.0
mopped up well behind the two man-markers, and showed some nice skills in possession. Good positional awareness
4 Khristodoulou 7.1
a difficult opponent for both Xuereb and substitute Paille with his enthusiasm and no-nonsense style. Strong in the air and efficient along the ground
5 Stavrou 6.9
usually kept Papin quiet, something which is not a bad feat for a man-marker. Better in the air than on the ground, where he did show a couple of wobbles on the bumpy pitch
6 Yiangoudakis 6.7
saw plenty of the ball early on, but would prove less influental as the game wore on. Clearly a sublime left foot, but did not always seem to have stomach for battle. Fine chip over the defensive wall for Kantilos to provoke the penalty
7 Kantilos 6.8
the better Cypriot attacker through his incessant movement. Brought down for the penalty. Did not allow the French defence peace, even if he could not pose a direct goal threat
8 Savva 6.8
an industrious performance along the right, in which his main contribution was probably keeping Amoros less efficient in coming forward. Twice mishit left foot shots in the opening half
9 Petsas 6.8
slightly nervous opening, but grew in confidence after positive involvements in battles with the opposition. Did little to promote an impression that he’s got much to offer in possession, but tactically sound through his positioning as a holding midfielder
10 Nikolaou 6.9
much the same as Petsas, although he was slightly sharper on the ball. Also needed to look out for Passi until the French brought their number 10 off
11 Khristofi 6.6
would occupy either Sonor or Boli with his left hand side running, and showed glimpses of understanding with his strike partner, even if he never threatened goal
(16 Iouannou –
hardly contributed at all since coming on, as Cyprus never threatened goal again)
1 Bats 6.8
almost workless. Could hardly be faulted for conceding a well struck penalty. Claimed and punched on a couple of occasions, and did what could be expected of him
2 Amoros 6.8
far from as influental in an attacking capacity as last time around, but the Cypriots were aware of him and were prepared. Defensively untroubled, but a player of his calibre should’ve contributed more positively in an attacking sense
3 Sonor 6.9
kept his side fuss free defensively, but some of his crosses let him down once he’d arrived high up in the pitch. Still, he showed plenty of enthusiasm in a much more attacking display than in their last outing
4 Casoni 6.8
used his cultured left foot to thread a couple of passes in forward direction, but seemed a little unsure how to cope with Kantilos on some occasions. Strong in the challenge, but less convincing along the deck
5 Boli 6.6
very sparingly used for possession, should’ve involved himself more; there were opportunities. Clumsily handballed for the free-kick which eventually led to the penalty. Saw yellow for unnecessarily savage foul on Khristofi. Disappointing game
6 Dib 6.5
one of the players you’d have wanted more ‘heart’ from. Where was his drive? Rarely unopposed in his part of central midfield, but offered little. Should’ve done better for his shooting chance in the second half
7 Bravo 6.6
an untidy performance in which he time and again had to come deep along the right hand side. Frequently overlapped by Sonor, but they rarely co-existed. Displayed how he’s no defender when he clumsily brought Kantilos down for the penalty
8 Sauzée 6.9
showcased his shooting talent on three occasions, and brought one save out of Pantziaras. Predominantly a less dynamic midfield figure, and his passing was not always good. Still, he displayed some heart, which was lacking in some of his team mates
9 Papin 6.5
an early effort was saved by the ‘keeper, though it did not inspire him into further action as he would cut a static figure up top. Angered late on in a clash with his marker Stavrou, which saw them both receive yellow
10 Passi 6.6
poor delievery from set-pieces. Not a whole lot involved initially, something which saw him seek towards central areas as the game progressed. Unable to find openings in a tight defence apart from his pass which set Dib up for a second half shot
(14 Vercruysse –
brought another dimension when coming on, and for a few minutes it looked like the French were rejuvenated. Strong body and able passes, and seemed to raise the game of his two Marseille comrades. Still, went AWOL after the equalizer)
11 Xuereb 6.6
headed in the French goal, but was a disappointment following his positive showing last time. Found his marker a big challenge to handle, and remained too static throughout. Sacrificed late on for an aerially stronger player
(15 Paille –
up against Khristodoulou after coming on, and won a header, but was not used enough for his greatest asset: aerial quality. No link-up play with Papin)