France – Cyprus: Happy send-off for Bats as France exit on a high
World Cup qualification in Europe had reached its very last fixture, and in the grand scheme of things, France v Cyprus was now reduced to a match of relatively low importance. The French had been hoping for a miracle from Norway in Scotland three days earlier, and although the Hampden visitors had held their hosts to a draw thanks to an injury time equalizer, an away win had never really been on the cards. Still, ‘les Bleus’ would wish to exit this qualification in style, and they’d want to follow up on their fine recent performances. Since the latter stages of the continental European summer, they’d displayed some slick attacking football, and they were beginning to look the real deal under legendary player Michel Platini’s tutelage. Cyprus had managed that sensational draw as these two had ended one apiece in Nicosia 13 months earlier, though on home soil, and even on borrowed turf in Athens last time around, they’d given a fine account of themselves in all three qualifiers despite losing.
Team news France
After a demonstration of power and precision against Scotland in their most recent qualifier, France were rounding their campaign off with a more or less immaterial home clash against minnows Cyprus. After that resounding win against the Scots, which had even brought about the slimmest of qualification hopes, France had learnt just a few days earlier that reaching next year’s World Cup was now a mathematical impossibility. They could play without any pressure whatsoever, as they looked to exit the qualification on a high.
There were returns to the squad for both Manuel Amoros and Jean-Pierre Papin, who had been injury casualties for that Scotland game, and furthermore big centre-back Basile Boli had received another call-up, having missed out on the squads for Norway and Scotland. Three had departed since the previous squad of 16: the injured Yvon Le Roux, the suspended Éric Di Meco, as well as forward Daniel Bravo, who had most likely just been axed. However, there would be another forfeit close to matchday: Jean-Philippe Durand. The industrious midfielder would be replaced by Lyon’s holding midfield man Remi Garde, who was drafted in for the first time at full international level.
Goalkeeper Joël Bats, who had made his international debut back in September ’83 during a 3-1 away friendly loss against Denmark in Copenhagen, had before the game announced his imminent retirement from the national team. He looked set to win his 50th cap. Bats had kept goal during the magnificent European Championships triumph on home soil in ’84, and had won bronze medals in the ’86 World Cup in Mexico.
Michel Platini had looked to have found his most ideal formation. In the modern era, it would’ve been dubbed 4-2-3-1, whereas the 1989 version would have been labelled 4-4-2. Against Scotland last time out, it had been Cantona featuring as a ‘false 9’, with wide men Ferreri and Perez cutting inside, but with Papin back in the mix, the Marseille goal ace appeared a likely starter.
Team news Cyprus
Last time around, we had only been able to identify 14 of the 16 players in Cyprus’ matchday squad for the Yugoslavia ‘home’ tie, played on neutral ground in Athens, Greece. On this occasion, we have once again struggled to pinpoint exactly which 16 had made it through to the squad on the day, but at least we had a pointer through an original squad of 18 which had been selected.
The squad contained two goalkeepers in Andreas Kharitou and AEL Limassol’s 26 year old Marios Onisiforou, previously uncapped and even unselected, unless he had been present during the Yugoslavia game.
Considered for defensive positions were Spyros Kastanas, Pambos Pittas, Makis Sokratous, Kostas Miamiliotis, Antonis Antrellis and Giorgos Khristodolou. They were all familiar names from the current qualification, even if Antrellis had only been a bit-part player, starting once and coming on as a substitute on three occasions.
For the midfield and forward positions, the following had been picked: Giannakis Yiangoudakis, Floros Nikolaou, Kostas Konstantinou, Panikos Khatziloizou, Kostas Petsas, Evagoras Khristofi, Marios Tsingis, Khristos Koliantris, Giannos Ioannou and Dimitris Agas. There were hardly any surprises here, although Khatziloizou, 30 years of Aris Limassol, had only once featured in a matchday squad during the ongoing qualification. Agas had made his qualification debut when he’d come on four minutes from time against the Yugoslavs.
From this 18, we know for sure that at least two players would leave the squad before matchday: defender Miamiliotis and captain Yiangoudakis. It would be a major blow to lose the highly influental and spirited skipper, and both were ultimately absent through injury. One player would be brought in who had not been among the original 18: Pavlos Savva, a player capable of performing as a right-sided alternative in a 5-3-2 or as a midfielder.
Manager Panikos Iakovou had played with both four and five across the back during the qualification, and in the process used a few different formations. They had big centre-back Giorgos Khristodoulou back in the squad, and indeed in the confirmed starting eleven, on this occasion, after he’d missed his only game of the current qualification campaign against Yugoslavia. Khristodoulou was a physical defender in a team which otherwise did not boast a lot of presence or authority, and his return appeared to have been a welcome one.
Furthermore, Iakovou had midfielder Pavlos Savva back. He had started in all four of their opening qualifiers, and not been seen since he’d limped off during the first half in February’s home defeat against Scotland. There was also a return for Evagoras Khristofi, who had completed their first two matches in this qualification, and who had since also featured as an unused substitute on a couple of occasions. He’d been a forward then, but that would change for this game, as the manager’s favoured front two, Khristos Koliantris and Giannos Ioannou, were both available to him.
If I were allowed to make a qualified guess, I’d say that Onisiforou, Antrellis, Petsas and Agas were the four Cypriots on the bench for this fixture, in addition to Tsingis, who would be brought on late in the game. However, we have been unable to verify this, with the exception of Onisiforou, who was the only goalkeeper picked in addition to Kharitou.
48 year old Soviet citizen Valery Butenko, from Moscow, was in charge of this game. He was another referee with a career at the highest domestic level, and this was his ninth appearance as a referee for an international since his debut some eight and a half years earlier with Yugoslavia’s 5-1 trouncing of Greece in qualification for the 1982 World Cup. His previous assignment had come just over two years earlier with Portugal’s 1-0 qualification win in Sweden ahead of the 1988 European Championships. This was his first task involving either of France and Cyprus. Butenko’s proudest moment had been refereeing at the 1986 World Cup, when he had been placed in charge of the group stage game between Algeria and Northern Ireland (1-1).
This was the fourth ever meeting between France and Cyprus. In addition to the 1-1 draw early in this qualification, they had also crossed paths ahead of the 1982 World Cup, with France triumphant both home (4-0) and away (7-0).
Stade Municipal in Toulouse had previously only staged three France internationals, of which two had been friendlies and one had been part of the 1988 issue of ‘Tournoi de France’. This latter occurence had been a 2-1 win against Switzerland, with six of the 16 in today’s squad having featured, whilst they’d defeated Iran 2-1 in ’78 and lost 1-0 to Wales in ’82. For that latter match, today’s manager Platini had been the French captain.
This was the first time in over 14 years that France played a home qualifier outside of Paris.
|1 Joël Bats||32||Paris Saint-Germain|
|2 Manuel Amoros (c)||27||Marseille|
|3 Franck Silvestre||22||Sochaux|
|4 Bernard Casoni||28||Toulon|
|5 Franck Sauzée||24||Marseille|
|6 Bernard Pardo||28||Bordeaux|
|7 Didier Deschamps||21||Nantes|
|8 Christian Perez||sub 17′||26||Paris Saint-Germain|
|9 Jean-Pierre Papin||26||Marseille|
|10 Jean-Marc Ferreri||26||Bordeaux|
|11 Éric Cantona||23||Montpellier|
|12 Basile Boli||22||Auxerre|
|13 Rémi Garde||23||Lyon|
|14 Laurent Blanc||on 17′||23||Montpellier|
|15 Stéphane Paille||24||Sochaux|
|16 Bruno Martini||27||Auxerre|
|1 Andreas Kharitou||27||Omonia|
|2 Spyros Kastanas||26||Anorthosis|
|3 Pambos Pittas||23||Apollon|
|4 Giorgos Khristodoulou||24||Omonia|
|5 Makis Sokratous||28||AEL|
|6 Kostas Konstantinou||21||AEL|
|7 Khristos Koliantris||25||AEL|
|8 Floros Nikolaou (c)||13′||27||Nea Salamina|
|9 Giannos Ioannou||23||APOEL|
|10 Evagoras Khristofi||28||Omonia|
|11 Pavlos Savva||24||AEL|
|15 Marios Tsingis||30||Aris|
In a floodlit Stade Municipal in Toulouse, it is the hosts who will get the game under way, kicking from left to right as we look at it in this first half. It is the supposed front two which will set the ball rolling, as Jean-Pierre Papin and Éric Cantona do the honours to get us going.
The France eleven differs from their starting line-up in the previous game against Scotland in three positions: As expected, team captain Manuel Amoros has returned to take up his position to the left side in defence after Éric Di Meco’s red card against the Scottish, while half-time substitute last time around, Bernard Casoni, has replaced the still injured Yvon Le Roux from start. Le Roux, sadly, would never recover, and in retrospect we are able to inform that he would not again play another game at top level following his participation in France v Scotland. The third replacement was Papin for midfielder Jean-Philippe Durand.
The Cypriots have made four changes since their last outing, as goalkeeper Kyriakos Kouis had been replaced by Andreas Kharitou, right-sided defender Kostas Miamiliotis was out, with Pavlos Savva his replacement. Furthermore, skipper Giannakis Yiangoudakis’ place in midfield had gone to Evagoras Khristofi, whilst Kostas Petsas had stepped down from his midfield role in order to accommodate for defender Giorgos Khristodoulou. This for sure implied another change in formation in the process, since their 4-4-2 combination against Yugoslavia.
So – would we have a disspirited, disillusioned France carrying the knowledge of World Cup qualification failure? Right from the word ‘go’, the very opposite appears to be the case. They have given some uplifting displays of late, and immediately set out to boss their lowly visitors, who without much doubt have arrived to defend deep and hope to cause some sort of trouble on the counter. With little need for either of the two wingers, Jean-Marc Ferreri and Christian Perez, to do much in terms of backtracking, the hosts almost have an old-fashioned 4-2-4 look about them, where even Cantona, so often dropping back towards midfield to participate in the creation of attacks, looks to sit up top alongside Papin. Not a lot happens down their left hand side, where Perez is anonymous, but Ferreri along the right is an active participant in the initial stages of the game.
France do not let their visitors have any time on the ball, and their early pressing is impressive, leaving absolutely no hints of disappointment. Bernard Pardo and, in particular, Didier Deschamps in midfield harry their opponents, and France are not out of possession much in the opening phase. They exert a collective pressure upon Cyprus, whose only response is to retract deep inside their own half and boot any clearance towards the halfway line. They have little ambition of their own coming forward, at least so far, although to their excuse they could’ve been forgiven for thinking that perhaps the French would not set off in such an intense fashion. Yet, in terms of opportunities, there’s not a great early count: There’s a Sauzée attempt from 35 yards after a foul on Deschamps, though it is hit straight into the defensive wall, and then a Ferreri lob over from the back of the area after goalkeeper Kharitou has failed to claim a left wing Perez corner kick, both attempts inside the opening five minutes.
Both French strikers are under heavy surveillance from each their Cypriot marker: Kastanas attempts to stay close to Cantona, whilst Khristodoulou sticks to Papin. The latter originally moves into right-sided channels in trying to create openings for others, both Ferreri and either of Deschamps or Pardo to arrive forward from central midfield, whilst Cantona’s idea is, as we’ve become used to seeing, to drop deep. In doing so, the Montpellier ace can provide creative sparks such as the one he offers twelve minutes into proceedings, when he threads Papin through ahead of him. Ultimately, the number 9 is tripped by Cyprus’ left-back Pittas, and the hosts are awarded a free-kick right on the border of the 18 yard area. Ideally, a taker would prefer if the ball’s two to three yards further away from goal, as it can be difficult to get the ball to drop sufficiently from this range. Cantona gives it a go nevertheless, with defenceman Bernard Casoni the other interested party, though the strike once again stops in the defensive wall. It had been ahead of the free-kick when we’d got what turned out to be the only yellow card of the game, with visiting captain Floros Nikolaou initially reluctant to withdraw the necessary ten yards away from the ball.
Substitution and impact
Whilst France were keeping the pace up, not giving their opponents any space or time on the ball, they are rocked by an early injury to left winger Christian Perez. Admittedly, the hosts had not focused their attacks much on the left hand side, with neither of Perez nor captain Manuel Amoros, the full-back behind him, seeing much of the ball inside the opening quarter of an hour, but manager Platini would nevertheless have wanted to have the PSG man available to him, as the tricky winger had shown in earlier qualifiers that he could provide a big threat along this flank. Upon winning a left wing corner on 14 minutes, though, Perez had been seen grimacing, clutching the inside of his left thigh. He’d not made much of it, and would continue, but just a few minutes after it was clear he was in too much agony to be able to play on. Perez would leave the field of play to be replaced by Laurent Blanc, the second Montpellier player in the squad, before 17 minutes had gone. The winger had limped off, clearly suggesting a hamstring injury.
The hosts do find it difficult to create clear-cut openings, and approaching the halfway stage in the first half, they are yet to duly worry the Cypriot goalkeeper. The latest attempt had been a Cantona header, but the forward had failed to direct it towards goal, and anyway he’d had to take a step back in order to connect with Casoni’s cross from the left, making it hard to get any power behind it. Still, Cantona had had a positive opening, and he was giving his marker, the somewhat lanky Kastanas, a tricky time.
With the arrival of Blanc, it meant a switch of flanks for Ferreri, who came across to the left where Perez had featured until he’d limped off. This saw the substitute slot into Ferreri’s original position along the right, a position which he was not unfamiliar with under Platini anyway, even if he’d also appeared as an inside right midfielder when they’d lined up in 4-3-3. It would turn out, though, that Blanc was much more prone to drifting in towards the centre of the pitch, thus offering much less width than France had originally set out with.
French tenacity had brought about some really heavy challenges, and no less than three Cypriots had gone to ground in need of treatment inside the first 20 minutes: midfielders Khristofi and Konstantinou, as well as forward Ioannou. Sauzée, Deschamps and Pardo had been the culprits, although there had not been anything malicious in their tackles, just plenty of enthusiasm and desire.
France have a goal!
The Stade Municipal in Toulouse is an intimate venue, and the capacity crowd generate good sound, assisting their heros along the way. They will find reason to celebrate just after the 24 minute mark, when the hosts open the scoring. Considering that the game so far had almost entirely been played out inside the Cypriot half, the goal was hardly a surprise, even if this was the first purposeful attempt on target. Cyprus had made a meal of clearing Silvestre’s long throw into the area from the right, and when Blanc’s effort had been closed down by Konstantinou, the ball fell invitingly for Deschamps 25 yards out. The Nantes midfielder, on the verge of striking a deal with Marseille, struck it sweetly first time with his left foot, catching the ball in mid-air, and it ended up in the back of the net for the number 7’s second goal in successive internationals. Cyprus ‘keeper Kharitou should perhaps have done more to try and get to it, as he appeared to have a clear view of the ball. He was slow to react, and Deschamps’ effort drifted in for 1-0.
A look through the visitors
Cyprus manager Panikos Iakovou had used a five man defensive line in four of their seven qualifiers to date, and in this, their eighth, he’s returned to the 5-3-2 formation, making it the most frequently used numbers combination of their qualification campaign. Goalkeeper Andreas Kharitou of Omonia in Nicosia has been brought back following Kyrgiakos Kouis’ qualification debut against Yugoslavia. This is the 27 year old’s third appearance of the ongoing qualification, and his third away from home following his participations in Glasgow and Oslo earlier. Whilst he had looked decent on the line, he had not always appeared too confident when dealing with aerial delieveries.
Sitting at the heart of their three man strong central defensive unit, is 28 year old Makis Sokratous of AEL Limassol. This is the libero’s 13th international appearance, and his fifth in succession in the qualification campaign. He’s hardly displayed a desire to come forward earlier, and he will continue to sit deep, just around the fringes of their penalty area, with his sole ambition to mop up whatever comes past his two partners at the heart of their defence. They are, incidentally, Spyros Kastanas and Giorgos Khristodoulou, both of whom are familiar faces by now, and both of whom are marking each their opponent, with Kastanas attending to Cantona, and Khristodoulou, who had been absent against the Yugoslavs, looking after Papin.
Wide to the right in defence was Pavlos Savva, a player whom we’d previously seen both in a midfield capacity and as a full-back, although he’d not featured since their first four qualifiers. Now, upon his return, he’d been brought into the side as their right-sided defender once again, the same position which he’d held in the two teams’ opposite encounter. Savva was hardly a stand-out performer, but appeared reliable enough. He was rarely adventurous in his attacking contribution, and he’d be keeping an eye on Perez and then Ferreri defensively. Across from him to the left in their defence was the ever-present Pambos Pittas, still just 23 years of age, but a player who had displayed right throughout their campaign that he was a capable performer at this level. Pittas appeared confident in his positioning, and he had become known for his left-footed delieveries. He’d also scored Cyprus’ two penalties in the qualification, the first of which had been the late leveller against the French in Nicosia. This was Pittas’ 17th international, something which was the second highest among the Cypriots on the day.
Their three man midfield consisted of Evagoras Khristofi, captain Floros Nikolaou and 21 year young Kostas Konstantinou seen from right to left. Nikolaou was skippering the side in the first absence of the qualification of Giannakis Yiangoudakis, and he’d proved himself as a reliable customer in the centre of the pitch, where he would rarely be overawed by any occasion. He was a tenacious kind of player, but he was also not without ability in possession. Nikolaou had scored their goal at Hampden Park during their 2-1 defeat in Scotland.
To the captain’s right was the moustached Khristofi, a 28 year old from Omonia, thus making him a team mate of both Kharitou and Khristodoulou. He had come back into the side following a lengthy absence, as he’d only featured during their first two qualifiers, and then as a forward. He possessed some composure, but neither he nor his compatriots in the Cypriot midfield were given much time on the ball, at least not in the opening 25 minutes of this game. To complete their engine room was Konstantinou, who had made a decent debut in difficult circumstances in their previous qualifier. He had sat just in front of the defence in the game against Yugoslavia, though here he was their inside left midfielder. He was a physically well-built man for his tender age, and he would put himself about in challenges. One could spot a football player in Konstantinou, who would do his best to make the absence of Yiangoudakis less noticeable. The 21 year old of AEL in Limassol was one of four starters from his club, and he would also display decent stamina levels.
The two forwards were once again Khristos Koliantris and Giannos Ioannou. The latter, aged 23, had proved throughout their campaign that he would play his part in Cyprus’ football future as well as the present time, often lending an uplifting impression from the left. When Cyprus played with two up front, they would usually let both forwards feature wide, and Ioannou would originally appear towards the left, just like he had against Yugoslavia. However, he would more frequently than seen before swap sides with Koliantris on this occasion, possibly in an attempt to add some unpredictability to their attack. Still, they had hardly been in action so far, even if there had been a brief moment just prior to Deschamps’ goal when a set-piece had found its way into the French penalty area, only for Ioannou to be whistled off when he’d challenged Bats for the ball. Koliantris was quite speedy, but he was rarely played to his strengths here, and he would often need to lend a hand defensively.
France continue to dominate proceedings after the opening goal, something which hardly can be described as a surprise, but it underlines their ambition to round off their qualification campaign on a resounding note, despite their failure to advance. Approaching the half hour mark, they continue to impress in the way they work high up the pitch in order to regain possession once it has been lost. Cyprus simply do not have the individual quality among their players to manouevre their way around the high pressing game which the French execute to perfection. Substitute Blanc appears to have added another dimension to their play, as he possesses way more physical presence than the player whom he replaced earlier. He engages himself in play both in field and in coming back into midfield, and he’s also good both at spotting a player ahead of him and threading a pass to players in advanced positions. Blanc would be the next player to have an attempt on target when his close range header on 29 minutes goes straight into the hands of Kharitou. Sauzée had headed Ferreri’s right wing corner across to him; the Cypriots struggled to cope with them in the air.
Focus on: France
The hosts are once again in 4-4-2, which by now appears to be Platini and his assistant Gérard Houllier’s prefered choice of formation. They set out with two wingers in order to establish width against a deep-lying and compact opponent, though whilst the idea is understandable, they struggle to make sufficient use of it, with their left hand side too often underused. They do improve after the change in personnel following Perez’ injury, even if it means they’ll stick less to wide principles.
Joël Bats has already announced his international retirement, and is making his 50th and final appearance in a France jersey. He has been the undisputed first choice between the sticks, being an ever-present in the Italia ’90 qualification. At 32 years of age, the Paris Saint-Germain custodian now felt time was right to hand the reins over to someone else. Auxerre’s Bruno Martini, who had been Bats’ back-up right through the qualification, appeared to be the strongest contender.
With Éric Di Meco sent off against the Scots, it was fitting that Manuel Amoros was back from injury to take up his customary left-back position. In this his seventh appearance of the qualification, he slotted into the left-sided defensive role for a sixth time. Having been a Bleus regular since early in the decade, he was hardly someone who needed further introduction. Amoros was often a willing customer in coming forward, but judging from his participation in the qualification, perhaps had one expected him to contribute even more inside the attacking half of the pitch than had been the case. Incredibly, he was still only 27. This was his 64th appearance.
An up and coming player in French football was surely Sochaux’ Franck Silvestre, who was an agile, versatile and highly reliable defender. He could feature in the centre as well as out wide, and would seem equally comfortable in a four or a five man defensive line. Only 22 years of age, he was making his fourth appearance of the qualification, his fifth in country colours altogether. He had first and foremost given an assured impression defensively, but he was not afraid to cross the halfway line. He had played his part in the goal, as it had been his throw which the Cypriots had failed to clear before the ball found its way to Deschamps for him to volley home.
In the heart of their defence, Platini had installed Bernard Casoni alongside libero Franck Sauzée in the injury absence of Yvon Le Roux, who had come off at half-time in their last outing. Equipped with fine size and a sweet left foot, Casoni sat naturally to the left among the two, starting a qualifier for the first time since their early 1-0 home win against Norway. He would focus on staying back, but upon realizing what a defensive proposition Cyprus were, the management would even allow him to participate in the forward direction. If he did, it was typically with a delievery towards the penalty area from a deep position along the left. Defensively, he would win in the air whenever the visitors attempted to play it high.
24 year old OM star Sauzée was an easy pick as the team libero, after he had been tested in various positions until the friendly in Sweden in the summer. He possessed a wicked shot, with either foot, actually, even if he would prefer using his right, and he loved to venture forward from the centre-back area. Sauzée added a dimension to their attacking play, and he had fine vision and great execution whenever he wanted to angle a pass out into the channels or wide. Defensively, he was rarely tested, much because Cyprus were such a pragmatic outfit, but also due to the fact that their two forwards typically operated in wide areas rather than through the centre.
The two players appearing in the heart of the French midfield were Bordeaux’ 28 year old work horse Bernard Pardo and Nantes’ Didier Deschamps, both of whom had come into the side towards the latter stages of the qualification. They both seemed to fit the bill perfectly, offering plenty of desire and commitment to the cause, as both were industrious and tenacious players. Pardo was often the one with greater defensive responsibility among the two, and he would prove to be the player who would sit back whenever Sauzée would venture forward. Both were winning their fifth caps, with two-way man Deschamps revelling in the relative freedom which his role offered him. He would deliever some crunching tackles, and he would drive the team on energetically from the engine room. Both Pardo and Deschamps would be instrumental in restoring possession once it had been lost, and Deschamps had obviously scored the opening goal. It would for sure be interesting to see how he would fit in with the other stars at OM when he would complete the transfer in the wake of this game.
Whilst original starter Christian Perez had already been replaced due to injury, wide right starting man Jean-Marc Ferreri remained their only true winger. Possessed with fine technical ability, he would always endeavour to get into a crossing position, even if he would appear to lack some pace. The 26 year of Bordeaux had been a regular of late, and after swapping sides following Perez’ injury and the introduction of Blanc, he would still occasionally pop across to his original right in order to double up with the substitute. As for Laurent Blanc, the 23 year old of Montpellier, who incidentally would turn 24 the next day, arrived in the right-sided attacking position, but not being a natural winger, he would time and again actively seek to engage himself in play towards more central areas. As previously described, his introduction would prove to be a positive one for the hosts.
Up top were Éric Cantona and Jean-Pierre Papin, a double act which had got under way during that 4-2 friendly win in Sweden back in August. They had not really looked back since, even if Papin had missed out on the win against Scotland through injury. Cantona would come deep, with Papin spearheading the attack, lurking on the edge of Cyprus’ last man of defence. He would not always be best pleased with how his marker Khristodoulou dealt with him, but he was professional enough to not let it get to him. Cantona, with his extreme composure and technicality, was a difficult man for Kastanas to shadow, as the centre-back would have to venture quite far out of position at times.
Through to half time, the earlier so intense pressure on the Cypriot players in midfield appears to ease up somewhat, even if that doesn’t bring about a big change in the game picture: France continue to be profoundly dominant, whilst the visitors harbour very few ideas of how to approach the final third of the pitch as an attacking capacity. What we had already seen a few times, with Ferreri doubling up along the right flank with Blanc, would be on display time and again towards the end of the first period, even if direct link-up between the pair rarely occurs. It is more the sheer number of bodies along this area which worries the Cypriots, and considering how the visitors appear more vigilant down their left hand side defensively, it is odd how the hosts choose to ignore attacking down their own left. Has the French managerial team spotted a definitive weakness in how Pittas defends? Is that why they are so keen to work their attacking right hand side?
Deschamps had been the leading example of French midfield aggression up until the half hour mark, but he’s far from as effective through to half time. Despite this, French individual and collective supremacy still sees them dominate, and they do arrive at further opportunities, even if they rarely make Kharitou work. Blanc had another effort at goal after a pass from Ferreri following a diagonal ball into the area from Amoros, but the left-footed shot lacked conviction. Cantona pulled inside and onto his left foot, but from 23-24 yards, he failed to strike it cleanly, and it rolled wide of the upright, and then Papin attempted the spectacular after a Silvestre cross from the right. His bicicleta, however, went a few storeys too high. Two minutes from half-time, a misfired effort by Papin from the edge of the area found its way through to Ferreri to the left, but he put way too much weight under his side-footed diagonal effort, which drifted high and wide.
Despite being under siege for the majority of the opening 46 minutes, Cyprus can be fairly pleased by the time the half-time whistle sounds. They’re just a goal down, and anyone who knows a little bit about the beautiful game knows what threats a slender lead may hold. Still, the gap in class is so evident that it is hard to imagine the French slipping up after the break. The Cypriot midfield has had a big struggle on their hands thus far, and they’ll need to improve in the final 45 minutes in order for the away side to get anywhere near Bats’ goal.
Whilst the majority of the first half had been played out inside the Cypriot half of the pitch, there was still just a one goal advantage for the hosts. Would we be seeing something different in terms of attacking approach, or would the French just continue their siege on the visitors, who did not appear to possess creative ability sufficient to take their opponents by surprise?
With both teams lined up at the start of the second period, there are no further changes in personnel, and kicking from left to right as we look at it, it is the Cypriots who will get the ball rolling for the final 45 minutes. Their front two of Koliantris and Ioannou make sure the game recommences.
No more than a minute after the restart, the French clearly feel they should’ve had a penalty. It is Blanc who heads a Ferreri cross down for Papin to accept right on the edge of the area, and as he’s about to burst through, he’s stopped in his track following a challenge from Konstantinou. The Cyprus midfielder is more clumsy than equipped with evil intentions, but there could’ve been few arguments had the referee opted to award France a penalty. Papin rightly feels he’s been unjustly impeded, but play continues, and the ball ultimately ends up back with goalkeeper Kharitou, and the situation is gone. How come Mr Butenko had failed to give it? The Soviet referee had rarely been challenged for his decisions during the first half, and perhaps should he be hoping that his indecision on this occasion will not come back to haunt him (or the French).
More of the same
In the early phases of the second half, there is no indication that there is going to be an imminent change in game picture. Cyprus continue to defend deep and have only limited attacking ambitions of their own, whereas the hosts are totally dominant in possession. The first 15 minutes of the second period are played out almost entirely inside the Cypriot half, though also mirroring events from before the break is French failure to truly test Kharitou. They move the ball about, and they try to use width in an attempt to provide better openings for themselves in central positions, but to little avail. Usually, there’s a wrong tactical decision from a home player or a lack of movement off the ball as the final plot is being contemplated. Despite the Cypriots sitting so deep, you are left with a feeling of disappointment that this French select is unable to cause further trouble in telling areas.
After Papin’s early moment of biting the turf, both Blanc, Sauzée and Ferreri had all had attempts from distance which had not duly worried Kharitou, with only the latter aiming his shot inside the goal frame, although the effort from 30 yards completely lacked in power, whilst Sauzée headed a left wing Ferreri corner well over when he instead ought to have left it for Casoni, who was better positioned just behind him. Papin has a shooting chance from the edge of the area when he takes over from Blanc’s diagonal run, but he completely misfires, and then the same striker will be spotted and picked out by Cantona inside the area as he’s for once made a fine run to free himself from his marker. As he connects with the through ball, however, he can only fire the ball across the face of goal from an angle, but perhaps is this a hint of better moments to follow?
Cyprus have not altered anything since the first half, clearly content with keeping the scores down. They appear satisfied with executing damage limitation, as they’re well aware that they’re faced with a task too big. They have next to no belief in themselves as an attacking collective, and once they have an opportunity to try and establish something inside the French half, which only really comes after a goalkick, they waste possession by spilling the ball out of touch. Sometimes clearances from the back will only make it until the halfway point inside their own half, and they’re faced with endless waves of French attacks. The Cypriots ought to be pleased that it is not a home team firing on all cylinders, and perhaps is the French inability to create further openings a sign of indifference. Could perhaps not their more attacking outlets have endeavoured themselves greater to try and run free from their markers?
With the pattern of the game since long set, there are few deviations from what has become routine: France toil inside the Cypriots’ half, but despite the many involvements from a Ferreri keen to express himself, more towards central areas rather than out wide left, they still struggle to break down a defensively determined visiting side. Having had a long time to develope tactics to suit a game picture identical to this, Cyprus are not tempted to abandon their shape, and you do from time to time get a feeling that the French are feeling frustrated. Still, they do manage to get to some opportunities, even if these are predominantly coming from distance. You can’t take out of the equation a certain level of risk when you allow Sauzée to fire at an unguarded goal from 20 yards, which is what happened on 66 minutes, and though he struck it firmly, the libero was unable to direct it either side of Kharitou, who had few problems in collecting. A minute earlier it had been Pardo attempting a shot from distance, although he’d been much further out, and there had never been a threat of the ball causing harm to the visitors, as it hit the heel of Pittas and spun out for a right wing corner which was in turn easily dealt with by the ‘keeper.
Few set-piece threats
Set-pieces had undeniably been an opportunity for the French to test the Cypriots’ mettle, but delievery had let them down. The visitors had also resorted to offside tactics, especially when a cross was aimed diagonally from either side’s deep position. Amoros, of whom one could’ve wanted even stronger attacking contribution, thought he’d picked Cantona out with such a free-kick on 62 minutes, but the linesman on the far side had adjudged the forward offside, even if it had looked like Pittas had lingered just long enough to play him on. And from corner kicks, Ferreri had been in charge of those from the right, swinging the ball outwards with his right foot, usually only to see a defender head it clear without much ado or Kharitou come out and claim, the French once again were disappointing with their delievery.
On 72 minutes, France are awarded a free-kick just outside the area in a position a few yards to the right of centre. It had been an identical range from which Cantona had struck the ball into the defensive wall during the first half, but on this occasion he’d let Casoni have a go, something which was certainly not a bad idea. The big defender, who had totally dominated in the air at the back whenever a long ball was aimed high towards the Cypriot forwards, hit the ball with plenty of left-footed power, and it drew a big reaction save from the ‘keeper. An alert Papin got his head to the rebound ahead of Khristodoulou, and Ferreri was on hand to head it into the back of the net. However, rightly the wide man had his goal ruled out for offside. There were no protests.
Not long after Ferreri’s disallowed effort, the hosts do eventually have their second when goalkeeper Kharitou commits an error from Amoros’ diagonal ball towards the far side of the area from open play. The ‘keeper fails to deal with it, probably because he’s disturbed by Kastanas, who goes up for the ball just ahead of him, and his weak attempt at punching it out only sees it drop benignly for Blanc, who can side-foot the ball into the back of the empty net from 14 yards. It is the Montpellier man’s first goal at international level, fittingly the day before his 24th birthday, and finally the hosts have that second goal which they’ve been chasing for so long. It must go down as a goalkeeping error, as Kharitou should’ve dealt with Amoros’ cross far better than he did.
It is remarkable how Blanc avoids getting his signature to a second goal three and a half minutes in the wake of his 2-0 strike. Unsurprisingly, Cyprus continue to sit deep despite having just conceded a second, and the French try to let the ball do the work inside the visitors’ half, eventually teeing up another chance for the big midfielder, who capitalizes from Nikolaou’s inability to get his oustretched foot to the ball following Papin’s ricochetted low shot from the edge of the area. With Kharitou almost committed, Blanc tried to pin it with his right foot towards the far end of the goal, but miraculously, the goalkeeper got himself up and managed to get a firm palm to the ball, diverting it away for another right wing corner. Big chance, execution alright, save tremendous. Blanc couldn’t quite believe how he’d not scored again.
Through to full time
Do Cyprus ever manage to lift their team higher up the pitch? No. They do not. Do they ever aspire to do so? Well, after some indecision from Sauzée, who had firstly conceded possession inside his own half, then headed Pittas’ deep free-kick from Cyprus’ left hand side unnecessarily away for a corner, they at least have a flag kick, although they can’t beat the hosts in the air when the ball’s delievered. Bats never has a save to make in his final international appearance; he only deals with back passes. It could not have been an easier farewell for the 32 year old stopper.
France, on the other hand, continue their shoot-on-sight policy. This could have to do with the wind apparently picking up during the game, and the hosts were wind-assisted in the second half. During the final five-six minutes, there’s efforts from Sauzée, Deschamps and Pardo, with only the first goalscorer aiming his shot on target. In fact, he had arrived at a similar shooting opportunity to Sauzée’s from just outside the area earlier in the half, although he’d been three or four yards further out. Kharitou had made an equal save low down to the one he produced from Sauzée’s shot. Blanc had also tested the ‘keeper, having played a one-two with Cantona before getting a side-footed effort away with his right boot from inside the area, but lacking power, his attempt had been a comfortable one for Kharitou to claim.
There was little need for much additional time. Still, the referee let 50 seconds pass after the original 45 minutes before he signalled the end to proceedings. The home win could not have been more deserved, as their dominance had been overwhelming.
In a very one-sided affair, France do struggle to create clear-cut opportunities, with Cyprus continually sitting deep in order to defend their goal. The visitors only aim to keep the score down, as they harbour no attacking intentions of their own. They clearly do lack someone able to hold on to the ball in midfield with Yiangoudakis absent, and the French waves of attack are relentless. It will take a fine effort from distance by the tigerish Deschamps to open the scoring, and in the second half the home team have plenty of shots from way out, hoping to strike lucky with any wind-assisted effort. Kharitou, who would make low, comfortable saves from both Sauzée and Deschamps, failed to punch convincingly from Amoros’ cross from the French left hand side, and Blanc guided the ball into the back of the net for the hosts’ second. The big Montpellier man should’ve added a third for the home side soon after, but the Cypriot custodian redeemed himself as he saved from close range. France ‘keeper Bats rounds off his international career with an effortless clean sheet.
France rounded their campaign off well, but their inability to win on the road had come back to haunt them, ultimately denying them qualification. Cyprus got just what their destructive performance merited, and they’d have to accept a seventh successive qualification loss.
1 Bats 6.8
has next to nothing to do; impossible to judge him on this his final performance
2 Amoros 7.2
gradually comes more into play along his side, and will ultimately assist for the second goal
3 Silvestre 7.2
a willing customer along the right, although his crossing left plenty to be desired
4 Casoni 7.3
displayed his aerial strength on a couple of occasions, and was also happy to accept participation in build-ups after the break
5 Sauzée 7.2
hadn’t brought the right shooting boots, and had a few final half seconds of sloppiness, but generally sound
6 Pardo 7.3
often sat deep in midfield and would dictate the pace. Rarely adventurous in his passing
7 Deschamps 7.3
the two-way alibi in the centre, and worked with plenty of enthusiasm. Terrific strike for the opening goal, but absent for spells
8 Perez –
has no more than three-four touches of the ball prior to being forced off with an early groin injury. Little happens along his flank during his time on the pitch
(14 Blanc 7.4
grand physique with which the visiting players appeared to struggle. Involved a lot, would often come in field, and had a simple task for 2-0)
9 Papin 6.8
not quite his evening. Grew frustrated by his marker, and failed to strike on target when the opportunity was there
10 Ferreri 7.1
started wide right, and then switched across when Perez departed, although he would be wandering quite a lot. Crosses not always precise
11 Cantona 7.2
would engage himself deep, and became difficult to pick up. Not enough of a direct threat
1 Kharitou 6.2
definitely at fault for second goal, and also not impressive for the opener. A couple of poor decisions in his aerial judgement, but at least saved when 3-0 was imminent
2 Kastanas 6.1
struggled to know whether to track Cantona deep or remain back, and an inbetween solution hardly flattered him
3 Pittas 6.5
less impressive than earlier in the qualification, but France would often attack down his side. Rarely came forward
4 Khristodoulou 6.9
big presence bothered Papin, and he succeeded in what he set out to do, even if he had looked untidy at times
5 Sokratous 6.7
once again literally sat deep and looked to mop up what came through to him
6 Konstantinou 6.8
two uplifting displays from youngster since his introduction, and grew in confidence as game progressed. Fine presence
7 Koliantris 5.9
did not have much going for him, and was anonymous almost throughout
8 Nikolaou 6.7
their one composed midfielder before the break, but suffered from lack of contribution from the other two. Highly unnecessary booking
9 Ioannou 6.3
wanted more than his forward partner, but also ultimately futile in his few attacking attempts
10 Khristofi 5.8
often running inbetween, and could not contribute whatsoever to midfield stability
11 Savva 6.7
a somewhat easier task defensively than Pittas, and came out of the game with his credibility intact