What would perennial strugglers Cyprus bring to the table in this group other than a welcome two points for their opponents? There had not been a whole lot during their last qualification, the one ahead of the 1988 European Championships, which suggested they would be anything but also-rans once again, even if they had managed to grind to a halt Poland’s good start: Cyprus’ 0-0 draw in Gdańsk would’ve been hailed as an achievement, especially after they’d lost their first four fixtures. The Polish had come into that game after three points in two matches, and following up from their excellent scoreless draw in the Netherlands.
Manager had been Panikos Iakovou, who by the start of the World Cup qualification now in 1988 was 47 years of age, but who had been parted with after that tie in the Polish port city. He had been succeeded temporarily by Takis Kharalambous, although Iakovou would be reappointed before the start of the 1990 qualification.
Cyprus had not played a single international during 1988 until an October friendly at home to Mediterranean Ocean rivals Malta (a 1-0 defeat), so they were surely something of an unknown quantity coming into the qualification. They would be playing three of their eight qualifiers before the end of the calendar year, rounding off in Yugoslavia (Belgrade) in December.
It is probable that Cyprus would’ve been hoping that they could achieve a scare or two among their opponents, and perhaps also to develope aspects to their game, but to neutrals they would’ve been expecting to lose all eight of their qualifiers. They were equipped with solely domestically based players. Pezoporikos Larnaca were reigning league champions, and would be representing the nation in the 1988/89 edition of the European Cup.
12.10.1988 Cyprus 0-1 Malta
Line-up: Pantziaras – Savva (Petrosian h-t), Miamiliotis, Sokratous (Orfanidis h-t), Kastanas, Pittas – Nikolaou, Yiangoudakis (c), Koliantris (Tsingis h-t) – Hristofi, Ioannou (Xiouroupas h-t)
In the qualification, we would see that Cyprus manager Panikos Iakovou would be using Makis Sokratous as libero when both he and Kostas Miamiliotis (libero for their opening two qualifiers) were featuring. So can we perhaps assume the same here, as I have done for this line-up? Spyros Kastanas did not appear to be cultivated enough to appear as the spare man. Though how would they shape up when Panikos Orfanidis came on for Sokratous at half-time?
Believe it or not, this friendly marked the very first encounter in football history between these two.
Cyprus 1-1 France
22.10.1988, Makáreio Stádio (Nicosia)
Goal: Pittas (pen.)
Line-up (5-3-2): Pantziaras – Savva, Stavrou, Miamiliotis, Khristodoulou, Pittas – Nikolaou, Petsas, Yiangoudakis (c) – Kantilos, Khristofi (Giannos Ioannou 76)
Sensationally, Cyprus claim a point as they stave off the French threat without too much hassle. Yes, they’d needed to come from a goal down, but they’d limited the opposition to a minimum of chances, and despite their own inability to press the visitors back, they’d struck home a late penalty to cause a serious upset. It was an outcome which was right up there with the best ever Cyprus results internationally.
Cyprus 0-3 Norway
02.11.1988, Tsíreio Stádio (Limassol)
Line-up (5-3-2): Pantziaras – Savva, Stavrou, Miamiliotis, Khristodoulou (Kastanas 24), Pittas – Khristofi, Nikolaou, Yiangoudakis (c) – Kantilos (Koliantris 71), Savvidis
Cyprus had arrived for the fixture in buoyant mood following that stunning draw with France, and they must have had high hopes for a rare international win. However, despite putting the visitors to the sword in the first half an hour, they failed to produce any telling outcome, and so their efforts would turn into despair. They would concede three second half goals, and it was back to the drawing board for the management. Centre-back Khristodoulou appears to have picked up an injury, having been replaced around halfway through the first period.
Malta 1-1 Cyprus
Goal: Giannos Ioannou
Line-up: Pantziaras – Kalotheu (Kastanas 83), Khristodoulou, Papakostas, Stavrou, Pittas – Kantilos (Khatziloizou 51), Petsas (Tsingis 34), Nikolaou (c), Khristofi (Giannos Ioannou 75) – Giannakis Ioannou
This friendly “return leg” saw the return of experienced libero Andreas Papakostas, who put on the national team jersey for the first time in over four years. It is likely that Iakovou saw fit to implement the formation which he had in mind for the qualifier in Belgrade shortly after. The game also marks the debut of Giannakis Ioannou, as well as Giannos Kalotheu, a player who could well be a right-sided defender.
Yugoslavia 4-0 Cyprus
11.12.1988, Stadion Crvena Zvezda (Belgrade)
Line-up (5-4-1): Pantziaras – Antrellis, Khristodoulou (Kastanas 65), Papakostas, Stavrou, Pittas – Tsingis, Yiangoudakis (c), Nikolaou, Savva – Giannakis Ioannou (Petsas 78)
Cyprus knew they stood little chance of an upset in Belgrade, and they’d opted for a tail-heavy 5-4-1 formation. This saw them camped deep inside their own half throughout, and they had just a sole effort on goal all game, which was when Yiangoudakis came into the area and got away a left-foot effort which was comfortably saved by Ivković. Having conceded three times in the first half, negative tactics from the visitors dominated the second half. Cyprus would eventually leave with four conceded and five warnings. Goalkeeper Pantziaras their best performer.
Cyprus 2-3 Scotland
08.02.1989, Tsíreio Stádio (Limassol)
Goals: Koliantris, Giannos Ioannou
Line-up (4-5-1): Pantziaras – Miamiliotis (Antrellis 76), Sokratous, Khristodoulou, Pittas – Koliantris, Savva (Petsas 37), Nikolaou, Yiangoudakis (c), Giannos Ioannou – Savvidis
A third home game of the qualification campaign, and though it looked like Cyprus were set to take another sensational point, they eventually succumbed to Gough’s 96th minute winner. Cyprus had come back from a goal down to lead through goals by Koliantris and Giannos Ioannou, though they failed to hold on to their lead for long, and then tried to kill as much time as they could. This would come back to haunt them as there was a huge load of injury time added. There was even crowd trouble at the end, something which would give the Cyprus FA a fine, and they’d have to play their remaining home qualifier in Greece.
Scotland 2-1 Cyprus
26.04.1989, Hampden Park (Glasgow)
Line-up (4-5-1): Kharitou – Kastanas, Sokratous, Khristodoulou, Pittas (Antrellis 68) – Koliantris, Nikolaou, Petsas, Yiangoudakis (c), Giannos Ioannou – Savvidis
Having narrowly lost out to the Scottish on home soil, Cyprus were second best for the majority of this fixture. They appeared to be lining up with an identical formation to last time around, as Kastanas and Khristodoulou marked each their Scottish striker. They fell behind in the first half, and then saw defensive midfield man Nikolaou equalize with a fine touch from Pittas’ free-kick into the area. Alas, a minute later the hosts regained their lead, and Cyprus never threatened again.
Norway 3-1 Cyprus
21.05.1989, Ullevaal Stadion (Oslo)
Line-up (5-3-2): Kharitou – Nikolaou, Khristodoulou, Sokratous, Kastanas, Pittas – Yiangoudakis (c), Petsas, Giannos Ioannou – Savvidis (Orfanides 88), Koliantris (Antrellis 90+1)
Having lost narrowly twice against Scotland, Cyprus must have felt that they could put in a strong performance against possibly the second weakest team of the group. Having played with four across the back in both clashes with the Scottish, Iakovou reverted to a five man defensive line against the Norwegians. Again, they surrendered possession with dreadful ease, and they hardly caused their hosts any problems at all, the late first half consolation goal apart. This was a very poor performance, probably Cyprus’ worst of the qualification. Now they had a five month wait until their next fixture.
11.10.1989 Cyprus 0-0 Malta
Line-up: Kouis – Antrellis, Khristodoulou, Miamiliotis, Kastanas, Pittas – Khatziloizou (Tsolakis 78), Petsas (Iosifidis h-t), Nikolaou, Yiangoudakis (c) – Koliantris
Iakovou took the opportunity to test out a few players, notably handing goalkeeper Kouis a debut, and similarly seeing first appearances for both Iosifidis and Tsolakis as second half substitutes. A rare clean sheet, and it would appear that they played with five across the back, although we have no visual confirmation.
28.10.1989, Olympiakó Stádio (Athens, Greece)
Cyprus 1-2 Yugoslavia
Goal: Pittas (pen.)
Line-up (4-4-2): Kouis – Miamiliotis, Sokratous, Kastanas, Pittas – Konstantinou, Petsas (Tsingis 71), Nikolaou, Yiangoudakis (c) – Koliantris, Giannos Ioannou (Agas 86)
On neutral ground in Athens, Cyprus put in a battling performance, even if they are up against a team far superior in quality. Qualification debutant ‘keeper Kouis gifted the visitors an early goal, but Cyprus would soon take the sting out of the game. They would equalize from the spot after Koliantris had been savagely flattened by visiting ‘keeper Omerović. Another early goal for the visitors after the break made sure of an uphill struggle, but despite conceding several goalscoring opportunities, Cyprus also created a couple of their own on the counter: Ioannou’s header came back off the bar, and Yiangoudakis’ late curler needed an outstretched Omerović palm to not find the top corner.
18.11.1989, Stadium Municipal (Toulouse)
France 2-0 Cyprus
Line-up (5-3-2): Kharitou – Savva, Khristodoulou, Sokratous, Kastanas, Pittas – Khristofi, Nikolaou (c), Konstantinou – Koliantris, Giannos Ioannou
For this their final qualifier, Cyprus had returned to five across the back in an attempt at stifling the in-form French select in an intimate stadium. Iakovou had made some changes since the defeat against Yugoslavia, and their most notable absentee was captain Yiangoudakis. Their midfield’s usual second-in-command, Nikolaou, had taken over the captain’s armband. There had been a recall for Khristofi, featuring in a midfield three, and Khristodoulou made a welcome return as Papin’s marker in the centre of defence. Cyprus were sitting deep throughout the game, and they managed to reduce the French threat to mainly efforts from distance. Goalkeeper Kharitou could maybe have done better for the opener, and was definitely to blame for the second.
The return of a point from eight qualifiers had probably been according to their hopes before the qualification had kicked off. However, as that point had already come in their first match, seven straight losses could well have been a disappointment, particularly judging from how close they’d come to upsetting other opponents than the French, especially at home. Their most impressive single performance, in addition to the France home tie, had come against Scotland, where Cyprus had been 2-1 up at one stage in the second half, before ultimately succumbing to a headed winner six minutes into time added on. They’d brought the additional time upon themselves, though, trying to waste time on every occasion possible, something which came back to haunt them. There had even been a spectators riot after the final whistle, something which led to a fine from FIFA: Their next home tie would have to be played outside of the country. As it were, they rounded their home campaign off in Athens, Greece, where they lost 2-1 to group winners Yugoslavia in quite an eventful game where the Cypriots themselves had not been without opportunities.
Manager Panikos Iakovou had varied their team formation during the qualification, and it is difficult to say precisely which alternative which had suited the group of players which he had available to him the better. They had played with five at the back for five of their eight qualifiers, although they had not always operated with a conventional right-back. Instead, one of their centre-backs, typically Kostas Miamiliotis when he had played and Makis Sokratous had been the libero, would act as a right-sided stopper: He would be drafted into the centre when they were defending, whilst he would orientate himself towards the right hand side inside their own half while Cyprus were building possession. Another trick from Iakovou’s book was how their two forwards would operate in wide positions, often allowing for their most attacking midfielder, which was usually captain Giannakis Yiangoudakis, to burst through the centre, hoping to draw less attention than a more traditional striker.
Only midfielder Floros Nikolaou featured in every minute of all eight matches, with left-back Pambos Pittas also starting every game. You also felt that players like centre-backs Giorgos Khristodoulou and Spyros Kastanas, as well as libero Sokratous, midfielder Yiangoudakis and the two front runners Khristos Koliantris and Giannos Ioannou, certainly towards the latter stages of the qualification, were turning into key men for Iakovou. However, one player which would emerge from their final two matches was 21 year old midfielder Kostas Konstantinou, a physically strong player who was capable of performing in a holding role as well as an inside midfield position. He was certainly one for the future.
Cyprus had only really been chanceless in the away fixtures at Yugoslavia and France. Apart from that, they had given all opponents a game, even if it must have been a disappointment to lose by 6-1 over the two games against the Norwegians, who finished fourth in the Group 5 table. Where would Cyprus move on from here?
Number of players used: 25
Number of players including unused substitutes: 29
Ever-presents (720 mins): 1 (Nikolaou)
Leading goalscorer: Koliantris and Pittas (2 each)
Yellow/red cards: 9/0
|Pittas, Pambos||8||8||698||2 (2 pens)|
Missing data: two from five subs in game 7, four from five subs in game 8. Missing a total of 6 subs.
– game by game
|Player||Fra (h)||Nor (h)||Yug (a)||Sco (h)||Sco (a)||Nor (a)||Yug (h)||Fra (a)||Played||Minutes|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
Cyprus had no further internationals until they started their qualification campaign for the 1992 European Championships with an away fixture in Hungary on 31 October 1990.