Dramatic winner deep into injury time rewards the Scottish
As had been expected, Yugoslavia had moved ahead of the other group members following their comfortable win against Cyprus in the previous group match, played prior to Christmas, and now was the time to resume action as three teams appeared to be chasing the two qualification berths. The Cypriots had managed to get a quite sensational point from their opening qualifier, but had since fell short to both Norway and Yugoslavia, whereas Scotland had looked sound hitherto with their win in Oslo and draw at home to the Yugoslavs. As they saw it, this was nothing but a ‘must-win’ game were they to challenge for qualification. A win by a margin of five goals or more, albeit unlikely, would take the Scottish top of the group.
Cyprus team news
Around two months after their 4-0 away defeat at the hands of Yugoslavia, Cyprus were looking at already their third home qualifier of the campaign. After that 1-1 draw against France and 3-0 loss to Norway, Scotland were next to arrive on the Mediterranean island’s soil. Venue was for the second time running Tsíreio Stadium of Limassol, possibly due to the fact that it could hold more spectators than the Makáreio in Nicosia.
Cyprus manager Panikos Iakovou had used a total of 19 players for their first three qualifiers, and he was hardly going to make wholesale changes due to the mere fact that they’d shipped eight goals with just the one to show for themselves. Seven players had started all three of their previous matches.
There was an interesting recall at the back for Kostas Miamiliotis, who had performed as the team’s libero for the France and probably also the Norway games. He was in line to win his 32nd cap, a tally just bettered by perennial skipper Giannakis Yiangoudakis, who had already notched up 40 internationals prior to this game. The experienced Apollon schemer was one of the seven who had started all three of their qualifiers hitherto.
There was also a recall for another seasoned campaigner in striker Giorgos Savvidis, a player plying his trade in Greek football with AEK of Athens, and indeed the only foreign based among them. He turned 28 today, so another sensational point, or even a miraculous win, would surely be celebrated madly by him in particular. Savvidis had featured in the defeat against the Scandinavians, his only participation in the ongoing World Cup qualification.
The sole player featuring who had not been part of either of their three qualification squads yet, was defender Makis Sokratous. The 27 year old AEL man was in line for his ninth international. He could possibly be appearing alongside team mate at club level Khristos Koliantris, a forward.
Iakovou’s midfield options other than Yiangoudakis were once again the defensively minded Floros Nikolaou, the hard working and energetic Kostas Petsas and the reliable Pavlos Savva.
Scotland team news
The Scottish had taken three points from their opening two qualifiers, and nothing short of another twin point would do on this occasion. Their previous qualifier had been the 1-1 home draw with Yugoslavia almost four months earlier, but Scotland had indeed played a friendly since then: They’d been in Italy and lost 2-0 to the hosts in Perugia. In that fixture, manager Andy Roxburgh had experimented somewhat, partly brought on to him due to player absences, and he’d introduced a three man central defensive line. Would he opt for something similar again?
Still unavailable to Scotland due to injury was Liverpool’s strong defender Gary Gillespie, who had performed so well in that win in Oslo. There was also no Willie Miller in the squad on this occasion. The 33 year old Aberdeen defender had played both their qualifiers thus far alongside his team mate at club level Alex McLeish, though the latter would have a new partner on this occasion. Or perhaps two. It remained to be seen what formation the Scottish would chose.
Another absentee was Rangers’ exciting midfield man Ian Durrant, who had come on in Norway. His Ibrox team mate Ally McCoist was also not included in the squad. Scotland had travelled with an 18 man party, of which two players would be omitted from the five man strong substitutes group. Rather than Durrant, though, Rangers still had a young midfielder in the squad: Ian Ferguson had made his international debut in Italy, and he had done well, something which had made it easy for Roxburgh to include the 20 year old once again.
Liverpool’s utility man Steve Nicol had been another absentee in Italy, though he’d been recalled for this journey. He’d played on both midfield flanks hitherto, and did indeed look set for another start. The same could well apply for experienced defender David Narey, who had by no means shamed himself in Perugia, where he’d operated as the central one among their three tall stoppers. Narey was well remembered internationally for his goal against Brazil in the 1982 World Cup which sensationally had put the Scots a goal up. He’d also played twice in Mexico in ’86.
In midfield, Roxburgh had had Celtic duo Roy Aitken and Paul McStay as his first choices in their two earlier qualifiers, and it would take a lot for that to change here.
Worth noting also that Aberdeen’s flamboyant forward Charlie Nicholas, formerly with Arsenal in England, had been recalled. He had indeed played during the 1986 World Cup, but not featured for Scotland since coming on as a substitute during the 0-0 Rous Cup home tie against England almost two years earlier. In line for his debut was fellow striker Alan McInally, a big, burly striker with Aston Villa in the English top flight. McInally was 25, and could add some aerial presence to the front line if needed.
45 year old highly rated East German official Siegfried Kirschen was the man in the middle for this fixture. It was Kirschen’s first appearance in the qualification for Italia ’90, though he was a well respected referee for his participation both in the 1986 World Cup (two matches: Brazil v Northern Ireland and Belgium v Spain) and the 1988 European Championships (England v Republic of Ireland).
Kirschen had made his international debut back in 1978 during a 0-0 friendliy in Brno between Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, and he’d overseen two World Cup qualifiers in each of the two preceeding qualifications. He also had a total of four European Championships qualifiers to his name, spread across three qualifications. Overall, this was Kirschen’s 17th international as a referee. It should also be added that he’d run the line three times during Mexico ’86 (Bulgaria v Italy, Scotland v Denmark and England v Morocco).
At club level, he had been in charge of the first leg of the 1987 UEFA Cup final between IFK Gothenburg and Dundee United in Sweden.
This was Kirschen’s very first task as the main man involving Cyprus and Scotland.
He was a qualified psychologist and a until recently an officer in the National People’s Army (Nationale Volksarmee) by the rank of lieutenant colonel.
The two had met in the qualification ahead of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, and though Scotland had won 5-0 in Nicosia and 8-0 in Glasgow, they’d ultimately failed to qualify from a group also containing West Germany and Austria. Rangers’ Colin Stein had scored six times over those two meetings.
The game was played on an incredibly difficult pitch. It was patchy, it was very dry, and the ball would always get an unnaturally big bounce. In addition, there was a degree of wind down the length of the pitch with which the players would have to contain. The bright February sunshine made use of floodlights unnecessary. Around a thousand travelling supporters were said to be among the estimated 25k crowd.
|1 Giorgos Pantziaras||36||Apollon|
|2 Pambos Pittas||22||Apollon|
|3 Kostas Miamiliotis||sub 76′||28||APOEL|
|4 Giorgos Khristodoulou||23||Omonia|
|5 Makis Sokratous||65′||27||AEL|
|6 Giannakis Yiangoudakis (c)||30||Apollon|
|7 Khristos Koliantris||24||AEL|
|8 Pavlos Savva||sub 37′||23||AEL|
|9 Giorgos Savvidis||28||AEK Nea Filadelfeia (Athens)|
|10 Floros Nikolaou||26||Nea Salamina|
|11 Giannis Ioannou||23||APOEL|
|12 Andreas Kharitou||27||Omonia|
|13 Antonis Antrellis||on 76′||25||Apollon|
|14 Spyros Kastanas||26||Ethnikos Akhnas|
|15 Kostas Petsas||on 37′||27||Omonia|
|16 Giannakis Ioannou||29||Apollon|
|1 Jim Leighton||30||Manchester United|
|2 Richard Gough||26||Rangers|
|3 Maurice Malpas||26||Dundee United|
|4 Roy Aitken (c)||30||Celtic|
|5 Alex McLeish||30||Aberdeen|
|6 David Narey||32||Dundee United|
|7 Steve Nicol||sub 10′||27||Liverpool|
|8 Paul McStay||24||Celtic|
|9 Brian McClair||25||Manchester United|
|10 David Speedie||sub 69′||28||Coventry|
|11 Mo Johnston||67′||24||Nantes|
|12 Andy Goram||24||Hibernian|
|13 Ian Ferguson||on 10′||20||Rangers|
|14 Charlie Nicholas||27||Aberdeen|
|15 Kevin Gallacher||22||Dundee United|
|16 Alan McInally||on 69′||25||Aston Villa|
There certainly is an in medias res opening to our tape from this particular fixture, as they jump straight into proceedings with a few seconds on the clock already gone. Needless to say I’ve tried to deduct precisely how far in we are when the action commences, but with no screen clock on display during the opening half, it is difficult to say for sure. However, due to comments late in the half, I am convinced that 50-55 seconds are missing. As we arrive on the scene, Cyprus striker Giorgos Savvidis is just about to scoop an effort well over Jim Leighton’s goal.
Let us, however, do things correctly and not get ahead of ourselves. There will have been some debating going on in both camps pre-match whether their teams would be in this or that formation, and once the action got under way, we were certain to get some answers.
Scotland had experimented with a 5-3-2 formation during their Italy friendly, and commentators suggest that so is the case here, too, although I struggle to find the evidence to back such indications up. In fact, I remain convinced that the Scottish starting line-up has been selected with a view to a 4-4-2 formation, something which I shall return to elaborate on in later passages. As for the hosts, their formation has remained a bit of a mystery to me for a good few viewings through, although I feel quite assured that it can be dubbed 4-5-1, even if it is far from a conventional one. This is very interesting, though, and their manager Iakovou clearly was another manager on the international stage who was not afraid to swap numbers combinations from one game to another. In their three earlier qualifiers, they had been in 5-3-2 and 5-4-1.
Cyprus had begun their previous home game, the one against Norway at the start of November last year, in bright fashion: They had been aggressive, they’d put the Norwegians under severe first half pressure, and they’d managed to create openings, even if they had not been able to tuck any of them away. Here, Scotland would’ve been expecting a similar tale. This made the visitors prepared. The awfully dry pitch would hardly have helped them on their way, but Scotland kept a fine shape early on, not bowing to any kind of attempted high pressure from the hosts, and certainly giving as good as they were receiving. Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh had done his home work on the opponents.
There’s a few battles, some balls bouncing high into the air off the dry pitch, and scraps in midfield following that scooped early Savvidis effort, but the visitors act in a composed manner, and they will indeed move in front from their very first chance on goal nine minutes in. The strike eventually comes courtesy of France based striker Maurice Johnston’s third goal in the qualification, and the flame-haired 24 year old, in his 24th appearance for his country, steals in to capitalize on a poor header back by Cyprus midfielder Pavlos Savva. It is a dreadful decision by the hosts’ number 8 to head it in that direction, after he himself had arrived to the ball following an up and under header from fellow midfield man Floros Nikolaou. Savva’s header only sends Johnston racing away in direction of the Cypriot goal, and home libero Makis Sokratous is unable to get in on the act before Johnston, having made it just into the penalty area, strikes the ball on half volley to send a projectile low to the left of goalkeeper Giorgos Pantziara for 0-1 on the scoreboard. The Scottish must have been over the moon with an early goal, as they would have been expecting a busy start from the hosts. Overall, the goal was the Nantes striker’s ninth in country colours.
Almost immediately in the wake of the Scottish strike, there’s a substitution being made by the visitors. There is nothing seen in their important wide midfielder Steve Nicol to suggest an injury as he trots off the pitch to be replaced by young Rangers man Ian Ferguson. Nicol had only once been involved so far, which had been when Scotland were attacking along the right early on, though he’d not fallen victim to anything resembling a bad challenge or similar deeds. Still, it was clear that Nicol would never have come off ten minutes into proceedings had nothing been wrong. Ferguson, carrying the number 13 jersey, appears to slot directly into the position left vacant by Nicol, and so Scotland would continue in the same formation with which they’d opened the game.
A look through the Scottish team
It is safe to say that the visitors had started in a 4-4-2 formation. This is contrary to suggestions from the Scottish commentator, who claims that they’re playing in a 3-5-2 formation. However, in the heart of their defence, David Narey, who had performed as the central of three stoppers in the Italy friendly, is playing to the right of Alex McLeish, and the former helps out to the right in defence on more than one occasion even in the opening exchanges. McLeish is also more placed towards the centre than someone who would play as a left-sided centre-half in a three (or five) man defensive line would be. Narey and McLeish make out a duo, and Scotland have Richard Gough at right-back rather than as a right-sided central defender. Maurice Malpas is the fourth defender in their constellation, playing as a left-back, just like he had done in their two previous qualifiers. However, the Dundee United stalwart had been their right-sided alibi during the game in Italy. Equally competent with both feet, there was no reason why he could not perform just as well along either flank. Still, Malpas was known as a left-back.
In goal, Roxburgh had gone back with Jim Leighton, who had probably returned to form at club level to claim again the number one jersey for his country. Leighton had a wealth of experience at international level, something which Andy Goram, the ‘keeper used by Roxburgh for their two previous internationals, could not quite boast. Goram, working at Hibs in the Scottish capital, had hardly done much wrong during his two chances, but an available Leighton, who had not even made the squad for their two games against Yugoslavia and Italy respectively, seemed a clear first choice.
Scotland had lined up with a four man midfield which perhaps needs a bit of explanation. Not that there was much sensational in the players picked, but certain roles were perhaps a little unexpected. As we’ve previously stated, Nicol was operating as the right-sided midfielder, a role which he’d also filled in the Yugoslavia game, and you would not get a footballer more committed or true to the manager’s word than the 27 year old Liverpool man. Perhaps was he better known for appearing in a back four at the Anfield club, even if he also had plenty of attacking credentials. He was not foreign to scoring exploits at club level, even if he had so far not hit the back of the net in any of his 19 previous internationals.
To Nicol’s left in midfield were the two central players, both belonging to Celtic: Captain Roy Aitken, who wore the captain’s armband after defender Willie Miller had held this honour in the Yugoslavia qualifier, was the slightly more defensive player, whilst his exciting 24 year old team mate at Parkhead, Paul McStay, already winning his 34rd cap, was operating just advanced to him. McStay had notched the Scottish opening goal during their win in Oslo at the start of the qualification, and had shown proof of his qualities. McStay had an eye for goal, he had abilities in distribution, and under Roxburgh he was as close as the Scottish would come to having a playmaker in their midst. Aitken behind him was probably more famous for his sheer determination and leadership abilities, and he was a natural choice for the captaincy, especially with said Miller not in the squad.
The last midfield position belonged to a player who had started up front in both their two previous qualifiers: Manchester United’s Brian McClair. Little involved early on, it was a little difficult to pinpoint McClair’s position, but it would seem that he was working towards the left hand side of their midfield, albeit not as an outright wide player. The former Celtic ace had not succeeded as a striker at international level yet, as none of his ten previous appearances in the Scotland shirt had yielded a goal, but he was not without vision and ability to thread little passes through for players in more advanced positions. He had come on as an attacking midfielder in Italy, although he had gone a bit off the boil after a promising entry. Could he mastermind passes for the front two on this occasion?
Up top, the visitors had Mo Johnston as their most obvious starting pick, as the Nantes front man had struck in both qualifiers already. He had an excellent eye for goal, and would often be operating slightly towards the left in the Scottish attack. With no designated wide left man behind him, this impression would be further cemented here in Limassol. However, he was well capable of appearing elsewhere up top, perhaps drawing a bit of bewilderment into the opposing markers. This was precisely what he had done when he’d darted through and struck the opening goal.
Making his first start of the qualification alongside Johnston was Coventry’s David Speedie, probably first and foremost remembered for his time at Chelsea, where he’d made up an excellent striker’s duo with outright goalscorer Kerry Dixon. Speedie had come on during the draw with Yugoslavia, and also got a few minutes towards the end in Perugia in December. This was the 28 year old’s eighth international, though he had yet to open his goalscoring account. Speedie, despite sporting a relatively modest size, was someone who was good in the air, and on this occasion he would be working towards central right areas in the Scottish attack. Both Speedie and Johnston were facing man-markers, so they’d need to overcome their respective opponents were they to produce goal threats. Johnston had proven already that he was capable of this. Could Speedie follow suit?
Since that early effort by Savvidis, there had not been a home threat towards Leighton’s goal. Scotland had seemed well in control, and they’d had a twelve minute Aitken effort from 30 yards clearing the bar. Interestingly, Aitken had similarly struck at goal early on during the defeat in Italy, and that time had tested Walter Zenga. This attempt, though, goes over.
Cyprus tie the game up
Less than two minutes after Aitken’s shot, the ball’s in the back of the Scottish net courtesy of Cyprus’ wide man Khristos Koliantris. Whilst Scotland had been gifted their goal by Savva, it was the hosts’ turn to capitalize on some shoddy defending from the opposition. However, the hosts had definitely played their part, as midfielder Nikolaou had lifted a ball through in the direction of the number 7. Moving inside from his wide right role, and catching Narey somewhat off-guard with a fine cross run, Koliantris put pressure on David Narey, who still seemed to be in control of the situation. However, with the ball bouncing high off the dry pitch, Narey’s attempted clearance would only bounce off the chasing Koliantris’ kidney region and fall kindly to him. With just Leighton between himself and the goal, the AEL forward placed his shot sweetly low to the left of the Scotland custodian via the ground. Cyprus were level!
The Cyprus equalizer must have come as a shock to the Scottish, who in the wake of the goal did not manage to get back onto the front foot. The hosts appeared to be playing with a greater fire in their bellies, unsurprisingly, and they got closer to the Scottish players than they had before the goal, being able to challenge well and get the visitors out of their rhythm. The large home crowd got behind their team, and for a few minutes there Scotland were less pleased with how the game was going.
In Yugoslavia, Cyprus had been demonstrating a desire for sabotage, even when they were already several goals behind their hosts. They’d often gone to the ground for little or no apparent reason, with players staying down claiming to be injured. Such time-killing tactics must have been anticipated by the opposition here, too, and the first evidence of play-acting would arrive near the 20 minute mark, with referee Siegfried Kirschen adament that the game must continue despite Cyprus libero Sokratous’ best efforts to feign injury. Kirschen refuses to halt play to have the Cypriot attended to, so play continues despite the defender being on the ground. The visitors, though, are unable to take advantage of any lack in concentration by the hosts’ players, and they will eventually let the ball into touch to have Sokratous seen to by the medical staff. The situation appears to be about as serious as the referee had thought, and so the home libero would be able to continue once the dust had settled. With no international practice yet in place to throw the ball back to the opposition, who had kindly brought about the stop in play, Cyprus would resume possession after the throw-in.
The game is not a high-quality affair at this point. Cyprus are pleased with the pace being less intense, something which means they’re able to compete with their opponents. Indeed, they will be the ones drawing the next save from either goalkeeper, when their talismanic captain Giannakis Yiangoudakis manages to squeeze a shot through the legs of McLeish from inside the penalty area. If the Cyprus playmaker had been able to strike well, he would’ve posed a big threat to Leighton, though as it is, his effort lacks conviction, and despite the fact that it had gone through McLeish’ legs, Leighton can claim without much hassle. Still, it is an effort on goal, and Scotland can’t keep conceding those if they are to return with an expected two points tally.
A look through the Cyprus team
By now, a clearer picture of the Cypriot formation was emerging. From the offset, it had been hard to determine exactly how they wanted to shape up: Were they with three or four at the back? As time elapsed, it felt right to label their numbers combination 4-5-1. This meant that they had changed their formation around yet again, having previously played with a five man strong defensive line. However, a bit like their opponents’ midfield set-up, Cyprus’ four men at the back needed some explanation.
Between the sticks, there was apparently no great threat to the position of 36 year old Giorgos Pantziaras, who would feature in his fourth successive qualifier. There were a few players who would equal the Apollon ‘keeper’s pedigree in the ongoing qualification, though, as a total of six players by now had begun all four of their matches. Pantziaras had given a decent impression so far, and a couple of his reflex saves had been particularly impressive in their previous outing.
Ahead of him, Pantziaras had on this occasion a third libero since the start of the qualification. Last time around it had been the experienced Andreas Papakostas, whereas here the job had gone to Makis Sokratous, the player who had recently been on the ground in demand of medical attention. Sokratous was appearing in this position despite the presence of Kostas Miamiliotis, who had been Cyprus’ libero for their first two qualifiers. Rather than sweeping on this occasion, Miamiliotis had been placed as something of a bastard between a man-marking, right-sided central defender and a right-back. This meant that their four man defensive line had something of an original outline, as there was no set right-sided defender among them. Miamiliotis appeared to be responsible of monitoring Scotland striker Johnston, even if he would at times be seen contributing from something akin to an attacking right-back position inside the Scottish half.
The most glaring man-marker was without doubt the imposing Giorgos Khristodoulou, one of those six who had so far started all four of their qualifiers. He was an uncompromising opponent, and it was Khristodoulou’s task to look after Speedie. This saw the Omonia Nicosia man appear to the advanced left of his libero, whilst one of their squad’s strongest assets, young left-back Pambos Pittas, was holding down his usual role. Pittas seemed quite comfortable in possession, boasting a fine left foot, and he would also move inside the opposition’s half and try and find a forward with a cross. He was also a first or second choice for set-pieces, and he had indeed been their goalscorer from the penalty spot during the 1-1 draw with France. Pittas could tackle, and at just 22, the twelve times capped Apollon Limassol man must have been an aspiring candidate even for clubs abroad looking for a left-back.
With Miamiliotis doubling up as a right-sided centre-half and right-back, would there not be a defensively-minded player to the right in the Cypriot midfield? You would think so, but the right-sided job had gone to Khristos Koliantris, who certainly was not a player with much to offer in a defensive capacity. Koliantris, getting game minutes for the first time in the ongoing qualification, would rather be seen as someone who could aid their striker, and he would much rather apply attacking pressure than assisting inside his own half. This was the AEL man’s only third international, and he had proved his worth when getting in field to score their equalizer.
Just inside of Koliantris was a player with much greater defensive responsibility in utility man Pavlos Savva. Making his 13th international appearance at the age of 23, Koliantris’ team mate at club level seemed like a clear favourite with Iakovou. However, that costly miss when heading the ball dangerously towards his own goal which saw Johnston take advantage and score early on, seemed to have influenced on his performance. Savva had previously in the qualification played both wide right and wide left, whilst he’d been moved one step inside for this tie. He did not possess much in terms of finesse, but would never shy away from a challenge.
At the heart of the Cypriot midfield was Floros Nikolaou, a player who was also known for his tenacity and workrate. Picking up his 18th cap, Nikolaou had on this occasion been instructed to follow Brian McClair, something which would draw him out of position at times, as McClair sought to look for openings. Had Cyprus perhaps been too focused on their opponents? Could it not have benefitted them to a greater extent had they, for example, let Nikolaou play in his usual role with no marking instructions? So far, they were alright, and McClair had been less visible. Nikolaou, as an attacking capacity, had assisted Koliantris for the goal. Iakovou would claim that his tactics with the Nea Salamina player had been spot on.
Usually taking the greater level of attacking responsibility in the Cypriot midfield was their now 30 year old captain Giannakis Yiangoudakis. This was his 41st international, and he was someone of fine individual pedigree. Yiangoudakis would often seek possession, and was equipped with a fine left foot for either passing or shooting. He also moved well off the ball, and would even accept his defensive responsibilities without hesitation. He’d recently tested Leighton with that drive through the legs of McLeish, though he had yet to score for his country since a goal in a friendly against Greece almost six and a half years earlier.
To the left in their five man strong midfield, Cyprus had Giannis Ioannou. They’d had an Ioannou starting alone up front in the loss in Belgrade, though that had been Giannakis Ioannou, who was among their five substitutes on this occasion. Giannis Ioannou had been brought on when they’d been searching for an equalizer against the French. Here, he would stick to his wide left role, offering assistance to left-back Pittas when it was needed. He was of decent build, although he was up against a very difficult and indeed physical opponent in Scotland right-back Richard Gough. With half of the first period gone, Ioannou had not made much of an impression on the game.
The lone striker’s role belonged to the Cypriots’ only foreign based player Giorgos Savvidis. He had played just once so far in the current qualification, which had been in the 3-0 home loss against Norway, so we have no video evidence of him previously. However, he is the one player in either of the forward roles with the hosts making the greater impression early on. He had been seen with that wasted early effort, though he would put himself about, and even offer assistance to his midfielders by coming back and helping out inside his own half. Savvidis was perhaps not blisteringly quick, but he possessed fine close control, and would pose a threat to the Scottish central defence. He did indeed seem a step up from Giannakis Ioannou, who had held the same role in Yugoslavia last time out. Today was also his 28th birthday.
A scrappy affair
The game’s quite scrappy at times. Part of this must be blamed on conditions. The wind appears to be blowing in patches, and it could well be that it runs across the pitch rather than down the length of it. It could have been a good idea to bring the ball down and maintain possession, were it not for the fact that the pitch is of such poor quality that the bounce is bound to cause controlling issues.
Scotland are very direct in their approach; they aim it long in the direction of their two strikers almost immediately. They do have fine ballers in the centre of the park, but neither McStay nor substitute Ferguson are allowed much time to keep possession. Indeed, Ferguson does well whenever he can take an extra touch or two, and he seems quite confident despite this just being his second international. He might not even have the wide areas as his preference, but from his right flank position he is among the most promising Scottish players.
Cyprus, on the other hand, are best described as plucky. That might be a widely used cliché for any underdog facing a much-fancied opponent, but in their case it is pretty spot on. They use whatever means they see fit, and they are certainly not afraid of going to the ground claiming injury. It has happened two-three times already, and if they can keep the score tied at a goal apiece, they will surely utilize those tactics only more frequently as the game progresses. They do have some players who are quite capable in possession, but collectively they’re not strong enough to put Scotland under any sustained level of pressure. They do arrive inside the opposition’s half from time to time, though the goal and also Yiangoudakis’ shot apart, they’ve not been able to expose Leighton to much threat.
Cyprus make a change
Scotland had made that early substitution when Nicol had been forced to leave the field and be replaced by Ferguson, and on 37 minutes it was the home side’s turn to withdraw a player of their own: Unfortunate midfielder Savva, who had assisted Johnston for Scotland’s goal with his dreadful header in the direction of his own penalty area, and who had not exactly lived a charmed life in the aftermath, was taken off for fellow midfielder Kostas Petsas, who had done well during their opening match against the French. Petsas had also come on in Yugoslavia, when he’d replaced the lone striker for Cyprus to go 5-5-0 (!). It was likely that he would slot directly into the position left vacant by Savva, who was not showing any sign of an injury as he ran off. It should also be noted that Koliantris by now was working with greater frequency inside his own half, from his right-sided midfield position, as if he’d been instructed by the manager to assist Miamiliotis behind him.
Visitors finish the stronger
Scotland end the first half on a strong note as they probably take advantage of some weariness among the hosts. Ferguson continues his midfield promise, and it is when he and McStay combine that the Scottish look to be at their best. The many long balls from the back in the direction of either striker, mostly into space for them to chase, but sometimes also aerially towards Speedie, who would struggle to beat Khristodoulou in the air, appear relatively fruitless. The said two midfielders combine well for McClair to turn Khristodoulou well to the right outside the penalty area. However, his cross was overhit, although it was picked up by Aitken almost by the left wing corner flag. Aitken swung another cross towards the back post, where the marauding Gough came to connect with his head, although he failed to get sufficient power behind his header which was comfortably held by Pantziaras. It had been Gough’s second effort at goal during the opening 45 minutes, which concluded with the balanced score of a goal to each side.
Half-time score: 1-1
With both teams having made each their substitution during the first half, the chance that one or both would complete their substitutions during the half-time break was not high. Also, the 1-1 scoreline meant that there was everything to play for in the final 45 minutes, and indeed, both teams reappeared as they had gone in for the break, and to get the second half going were Scotsmen Brian McClair and Roy Aitken with the kick-off.
Action packed opening to the half
The start to the second half is interesting. Just over two minutes will pass until Cyprus move in front, and it happens after a barrage on Jim Leighton’s goal. The Scotland goalkeeper had instigated it himself, as he’d failed to hold on to a free-kick into the area from left-back Pittas, something which resulted in Malpas hoofing it out for a right wing host corner. Perhaps oddly, they had striker Savvidis taking their flag kicks, and as he swung it into the centre of the six yard box, Leighton again failed to claim as he flapped at it, and when the ball fell loose in the area, several home players tried to get shots away, until the ball worked its way out to midfielder Nikolaou to the right inside the area. His low cross-cum-shot was turned home on the far post by Giannis Ioannou for a second Cypriot goal of the afternoon. The goal was Ioannou’s second for his country, as he’d also recently scored their equalizer in the 1-1 friendly in Malta. Large sections of the 25 000 strong crowd went mental, clearly eyeing another Cypriot upset.
How about a Scottish response to that shock second goal for the hosts? Well, they had been direct so far this afternoon, having little wish to dally on the ball in midfield, with the risk of losing possession in dangerous territory due to the dreadful quality of the pitch. They attempt more of the same in the wake of the goal, shifting the ball quickly in the forward direction, and ultimately right-back Gough will have his third attempt of the game when he hits a low shot on the turn and from an angle into the side-netting without worrying Pantziaras a whole lot. That attempt had been preceeded by a Cyprus attack which had ended with Ioannou squaring it for two team mates in front of the Scottish goal. Unfortunately for the hosts, the second goalscorer’s low cross from the left has too much pace, and the pair in front of goal, Savvidis and Koliantris, fail to communicate, and with both attempting to reach the ball, they’d both fail, with Malpas getting a boot to it to dent any hopes of a third Cypriot goal.
Whilst the first half had been seeworthy, if not with a whole lot of quality in it, the start to the second half is breathtaking. There’s action all across the pitch, and with the hosts having come back on to the pitch firing on all cylinders, one could almost have been forgiven for thinking that the Scottish would’ve been left shell-shocked. Credit to the visitors; they continue to look for openings of their own. Their players do not go hiding. There’s a notable change in their midfield dynamics, though, as Ian Ferguson, who had arrived on to the scene with just ten minutes gone in the first half due to that possible injury to Steve Nicol (incidentally, Nicol appeared to have been suffering from a bout of food poisioning, we learn as the game resumes with the start of the second half), had been moved across from the right hand side to the left. Ferguson had shown some nice touches and initiative during the opening half, especially in combining with McStay, and in moving him over to the left, perhaps were the Scottish looking to take advantage of that lack of an outright right-sided player with defensive responsibilities among the hosts. McClair, as it were, now seemed to have switched towards the right, albeit still not in a typical wide role. It might have been done in an attempt to try and free himself from the shackles that were Cyprus midfielder Nikolaou.
A second equalizer for the afternoon
It is not as if the all-action start to the half is about to take an immediate dive into obscurity, because eight and a half minutes into the final 45, Richard Gough, who has already had three goal attempts, brings the score back to level when he strikes home right-footed from a central position in the area after he’s struck first time following a short pass from Scotland’s first goalscorer Johnston. Gough had often found himself high up in the pitch when Scotland were on the attack, and he’d stayed up after a McClair throw from the right, which had been headed on by McStay into the path of Speedie, who had managed to get in behind his marker Khristodoulou and square it for Johnston. It is fair to say that Speedie played a massive part in the goal in moving out of Khristodoulou’s radar. Gough’s low shot did not have plenty of power, but it hit the outstretched foot of Miamiliotis on the way, something which wrong-footed Pantziaras. 2-2. Cyprus’ lead had lasted a mere six and a half minutes.
In the wake of the fourth goal
Cyprus must have felt hard done by to concede an equalizer so shortly after going in front, although they try their best not to let it affect them too much. Still, the second Scottish goal appears to have them somewhat on the back foot, as they struggle to break out of their own half. Koliantris has had to accept greater defensive responsibility along the right since during the first half, something which isolates lone striker Savvidis to a greater extent. While Koliantris must track back along the right, the same applies for Ioannou along the left. In their centre, it does appear as if first half substitute Petsas is trying to stick to McStay. Nikolaou, though, seemingly has no wish to follow McClair out towards the Cypriot left, so the assist-maker for the second home goal now plays with more freedom.
Scotland have been re-invigorated by Gough’s goal, his fourth for his country in 41 appearances, and they see David Speedie enjoy what is clearly his best spell of the game. The little forward has often struggled in battle with Khristodoulou, but the way he snuck away from his marker’s attention shortly before the equalizer must have given him renewed belief. He appears to move with a spring in his step, and he has a firm header from just inside the area to the left saved by Pantziaras when he connects from an Aitken free-kick.
With McStay being followed by Petsas, Scotland have Ferguson sometimes come in field from his left-sided position to try and create openings, and the 20 year old is really having a fine game on what is such a treacherous surface. McClair, who had switched across to the right for the start of the half, also attempts to bring a greater element of flexibility into his game, and he will even be seen coming across to Ferguson’s side of the pitch in order to drag opponents out of position. However, the same McClair is almost gifting the hosts a third goal when he fails to look up and see how Cyprus striker Savvidis rests inside the Scottish penalty area, and playing a back pass to Leighton was not a bright idea. Luckily for the Manchester United forward, Savvidis somehow fails to control the ball, probably as he’s taken his eyes off it in contemplating his next move, and Leighton can gratefully claim.
Approaching the halfway point in the second half, there’s a couple of bookings, one for each team. Cyprus had been giving displays of their time-wasting tactics during the first 45 minutes, although after the break there had, thankfully, not been much of that. This was until libero Sokratous got cautioned for taking too long over a goal kick. The Cyprus number 5 would usually assist his goalkeeper in kicking, and perhaps was this the first proof that the hosts were, after all, content with what was displayed on the scoreboard. Two minutes later, there’s a second booking of the game going to Scotland left-back Malpas for raising his foot high and catching Koliantris. It seemed innocuous enough. Neither player had previously been booked in the ongoing qualification, so they would still be available for their respective countries’ next games.
With the game now beyond the halfway stage in the second period, and with the pace less frantic than at the beginning of the half, Scotland decide to make their second and final substitution in taking off David Speedie and bringing on Aston Villa striker Alan McInally. Speedie had recently been down following a challenge, and he was hobbling around for a short while after, so he could be coming off due to a knock. His game had drastically picked up since playing a major role in the second Scottish goal, so the timing of that possible injury seemed very unfortunate. As for the physically imposing McInally, this was the 25 year old striker’s very debut at international level. He was having a fine season in the English top flight, and with Roxburgh opting for a target-man rather than the more dynamic Kevin Gallacher, the Scotland supremo must have felt that they still needed someone to impose aerially on the Cypriot defence. Could McInally prove to be a shrewd substitution?
Scotland seem to lack the quality in their final pass, and so they are unable to cause further inroads on the Cypriot goal, and the match is still evenly balanced as the clock is ticking beyond the 75 minute mark. Substitute McInally had initially showed some of his brute strength as he appeared to bulldoze his way forward when tracked by Pittas out on the Scottish right hand side, but that incident apart he had yet been unable to make a big impression. The same could be said for his forward partner Johnston, scorer of the first Scottish goal, who had largely lived an anonymous existence, although he was in action down the same right hand side when he tried to take the ball past his marker Miamiliotis and swing the ball into the box. The Cypriot defender managed to get a tackle in and clear the ball out for a throw, though in the process he would injure himself and remain down outside the pitch, something which necessitated the use of a second substitute for the hosts: Antonis Antrellis, who had been their right-back in Belgrade, was brought on to replace Miamiliotis. There had also been the option of bringing on centre-back Spyros Kastanas, who had come on in two qualifiers already. We learn at this point that Miamiliotis is a policeman with the Cypriot forces. Hopefully, the officer’s injury is not serious.
It is becoming increasingly evident that Cyprus are content with a point, and they make little effort in sending men forward in search of further goals themselves. There’s another piece of antics when goalkeeper Pantziaras goes down after a very innocent touch from McInally, and the 36 year old makes the most of it, prompting Scotland’s Gough to remind the referee that this is certainly worth adding time for.
So nearly a third
In a moment of shear brilliance, Mo Johnston comes close to adding to his tally ten minutes from time, as he takes down a very deep right wing corner from McStay. Johnston’s outside the penalty area, slightly to the left, and he strikes a half volley which cannons off the underside of Pantziaras’ crossbar, almost by the angle with the post. It was a lovely piece of art from the Nantes striker, and he’s desperately unlucky to not see it go into the back of the net. So too are Scotland, who still need to search for that elusive third goal.
Approaching the business end
Inside the final ten minutes, Scotland continue to apply the pressure, whilst the clock must be ticking painstakingly slow for the hosts, who are just interested in seeing time out. They take every opportunity at set-pieces to slow proceedings down, and they are certainly not afraid of going down in order to spend time on the ground.
What is also noticeable, is that they seem to be going proper man to man more or less all across the pitch, with left-back Pittas clearly tracking McClair when the forward makes it cross-field to the left hand side. Substitute Antrellis has taken over Miamiliotis’ task of looking after Johnston, while Khristodoulou appears to have an appetite for the battle with McInally. He’s a robust player, Khristodoulou, and now he has someone to attend to that has their strength more or less in the same department as himself, he seems to relish the challenge.
Someone who has had a fairly quiet game has been Cyprus’ captain and playmaker Yiangoudakis. So useful in possession, he’s rarely been allowed time on the ball by a collective Scottish effort, and cutting off the home side’s main supply lines has been a wise decision by the visitors. They are the only team interested in looking for the win, although that effort from Johnston on to the bar apart, they have not been able to duly trouble Pantziaras in the latter stages of the game. Still, a few minutes remain, and also whatever additionals for time wasting that the referee decides upon. Scotland still have a chance.
With three minutes left for play, Cyprus win a free-kick in a promising position due to a foot raised by Gough in the direction of Savvidis. Fair play to the Cyprus striker, he did not make anything of it, though Mr Kirschen felt that Gough had infringed. It was given 28-29 yards away from goal, and perhaps could someone just have a pop at target, as this was surely Cyprus’ final opportunity to strike on goal. Before play can resume with the free-kick, though, the referee needs to sprint back to the Cypriot half of the pitch, as yet another home player has gone down with what was surely nothing serious. This time it was Pittas, who appears to be in such discomfort that he must be carried off the field by team mates. Another minute passes by until Savvidis can hit the free-kick, though rather than shoot, he tries to chip it towards the far end of the area where Koliantris is only modestly keen. The ball goes out of play for a goal kick.
Desperation creeping into it
Naturally, there’s a great deal of urgency to the Scottish’ game, although they are still unable to penetrate the hosts with the clock now up. They are looking for aerial balls, and their idea is to arrive first to the second balls, as McInally’s used in capacity of a target-man. Cyprus defend for their lives; they boot or head the ball anywhere, just away from goal. They have strength in numbers, and they don’t mind conceding corners as long as it gets the ball out of harm’s way. There’s a few flag kicks coming the visitors’ way inside additional time, though when Nikolaou almost three minutes into time added on dons the Scots another right wing kick, you feel as if it is last chance saloon. Previously, Gough had arrived to head a McStay corner kick well off target and without much power anyway. They’ll have to do better. They don’t, though. It is Gough who once again is the aim, but he comes flying into the challenge with Pantziaras, and the referee awards the home side a free-kick. Surely, that is it.
The winning goal!
On 94,20, Sokratous boots the ball into touch inside the Scottish half of the pitch, and no ball boy wants to assist the visitors in retrieving the ball. The level of frustration among the visitors must have reached new heights. Still, they are allowed to play on, and they go and win a free-kick in a promising position down the left hand channel when Ferguson is impeded by Nikolaou. Captain Aitken swings one final ball into the penalty area, and there…THERE! Cyprus have for whatever reason forgot to mark Richard Gough, who had already had several attempts on goal, in addition to the one he’d scored earlier in the half. They were the masters of their own downfall, the Cypriots, as Gough easily steered home Aitken’s delievery with his head. The clock showed 95,32 as the ball went into the back of the net, and the Scots had their precious winner, surely. Such late drama, and home players and fans alike can’t believe it. The visiting players celebrate like they’ve won the World Cup. All of Cyprus’ time-wasting had come back to haunt them.
Cyprus resume the game, but on 96,45 time is up with Scotland in possession inside their own half. They had come back from the dead and turned the game around. It could prove to be a hugely important victory in the end.
Final score: Cyprus 2, Scotland 3
Post game trouble
Alas, a group of Cypriot fans certainly didn’t take lightly to the fact that the referee had added six minutes of injury time, something which was almost unheard of at the time. Upon the final whistle, they felt provoked into action, and they would take to the pitch in order to confront both the referee and the Scottish team. There were claims that Mr Kirschen had a missile shot in his direction and that he was punched, and riot police would need to intervene to make sure of both his and the Scottish team’s safety. It would take Mr Kirschen and his assistants half an hour to leave the pitch. Ugly, unsavory scenes.
Ultimately, the Cypriot FA would receive a fine from FIFA, and they would have to play their one remaining home qualifier outside of the country.
1 Pantziaras 6.8
little chance for two goals, wrong-footed on the other. Is competent both in the air and on the line, though he also offers evidence of some utterly silly antics when barely touched by McInally
2 Pittas 6.9
his ‘sweet left foot’ must always be mentioned: Is the cause behind the corner which eventually leads to 2-1. Defensively he likes to tackle, and he’s not an easy proposition to get past. Another fine display by a highly promising player
3 Miamiliotis 6.8
sticks obeyingly near Johnston for large spells, and is no mean marker. The Scottish striker had strayed out of Miamiliotis’ range for the goal, though the defender failed to catch his man both for the assist for 2-2 and when Johnston rammed the bar late on. Off with what looked like a knee injury picked up in a tackle on McClair
(13 Antrellis –
arrives on the scene late on to continue Miamiliotis’ job to the right in defence, and does not stand out in either direction)
4 Khristodoulou 6.9
has some sound aerial battles with both Speedie and his successor McInally, whilst he’s not always impressive when play happens along the ground
5 Sokratous 6.9
mops up well behind the other defenders, is well positioned, and also is no mug in the air. Can not catch Johnston for the opening goal, though, which he still can’t be blamed for
6 Yiangoudakis 6.7
as always, he shows nice touches, but for large spells he is inactive, and not as much on the ball as the hosts would’ve wanted. Still, his vision can’t be overlooked, and he did spray a couple of delicious passes in the forward direction. Did not enjoy the physical battle much
7 Koliantris 6.9
a fine contribution from his original right hand sided role, from which he would also came inside and act as support for the lone striker. Showed industry to force Narey into the error which paved way for his controlled finish to bring about the equalizer. Did not offer much in terms of defensive assistance
8 Savva 5.9
much running inbetween, and has that dreadful header which assists Johnston for 0-1. Does not appear to be injured, so probably off for tactical reasons
(15 Petsas 6.7
more competitive than the man whom he replaced, and also this time around showed some nice touches on the ball. Will still look back on his second half nutmeg of Aitken with great joy. Sound in keeping McStay more quiet than usual)
9 Savvidis 6.7
not without pace, industrious, and keen to be involved, sometimes even from deep positions. However, his main task was being the lone striker, and was increasingly left isolated after the break. A surprise corner taker
10 Nikolaou 7.0
fairly efficient marking job on McClair first half, and combative as always from his defensive, central midfield position. Also gave evidence of his vision when he lofted the ball forward in Koliantris’ direction for 1-1
11 Giannis Ioannou 6.6
not a whole lot involved from his left hand side, but when he was, he got a goal and then could’ve had an assist shortly after. Was often forced to participate inside his own half, which did not appear to be an asset of his. Bonus for being in the right spot at the right time for their second goal
1 Leighton 6.4
does not instill the necessary level of confidence into his defence through some less impressive actions, and flaps for the second home goal. Does not have too much to do
2 Gough 8.3
grows into a tower of strength at the back, drives forward from his full-back position, and is by far the single player with the most efforts at goal (6!). Add his two goals to that, and you get an easy ‘Man of the match’ award
3 Malpas 6.9
well-positioned against the busy Koliantris. Alert and on hand to divert a couple of dangerous-looking moments away to safety, though contributes not a whole lot attack-wise
4 Aitken 7.2
another workmanlike performance from the tigerish captain, who also made some heavy second half runs down into the right hand channel. Fine set-piece delievery for the winner, and dished out some beating to the Cypriot captain
5 McLeish 6.9
as sound in the air as you’d expect, though did not engage much in play with Scotland in possession
6 Narey 6.8
is relatively pacy despite his advanced years, and was in demand a couple of times when Koliantris turned the pace on. Hardly impressed when he failed to clear Scottish lines for the Cypriot equalizer
7 Nicol –
needs to leave the pitch almost without having been involved from his right-sided midfield position. Turns out it was due to food-poisoning
(13 Ferguson 7.4
after his decent debut in Italy, this was another step in the right direction for the young midfielder, who played with impressive cool and demonstrated both quality in possession and through his tenacity in winning the ball back)
8 McStay 6.6
less impressive this time around as he was more or less man-marked, and quite efficiently so. Also operated in an area where gaining control of the ball was very difficult
9 McClair 6.3
appeared to struggle in finding his position first half, and it looked like his confidence dropped. Did improve somewhat after the break, but almost gifted Savvidis a massive chance for 3-2 with a horrible back pass
10 Speedie 6.8
a fine spell around the time of the Scottish equalizer, in which he played a part, though often found his marker Khristodoulou a match in the air. Off with a knock to his ankle
(16 McInally –
brought on to impose himself aerially, though was not allowed much space in which to manoeuvre, as Khristodoulou was a difficult marker. Could’ve converted the rebound after Johnston hit the bar from distance)
11 Johnston 7.4
notched again, assisted for 2-2, and then could’ve scored when his effort from outside the box crashed off the underside of the bar. Busy when it mattered, but in open play he was generally contained by his markers