By Andreas Vou
In an unconvincing display against the joint-lowest FIFA-ranked country in the world, Cyprus managed a 3-1 win over Gibraltar to claim their first three points in 2018 World Cup qualifying.
What most expected to be a walk in the park for Cyprus almost ended up being an embarrassing evening for the hosts, with the visiting minnows arguably creating the better opportunities.
It could, and perhaps should have been, a different story had Pieros Sotiriou converted his one-on-one-chance within the first three minutes but the Apoel striker instead snuffed at the effort and was easily denied.
From then on, it was Gibraltar who had the better of the first half. On 21 minutes, Cabrera was picked out at the back post but the forward headed the ball into the ground over the bar.
Another excellent left-footed cross, this time from Walker from a set piece found Chipolina at the back post who headed the ball beyond Panayi, only to see his fine finish correctly ruled out for offside.
But just when Gibraltar were experiencing the best spell of the game, Cyprus earned a free-kick of the game on the counter-attack. Christofi’s strike deflected kindly into the path of Laifis who calmly poked the ball home for 1-0, against the run of play.
In a bizarre incident, Cyprus also had a goal ruled out when Christofi’s prodded cross into the box bounced slowly over the Gibraltar keeper but it was chalked off as Sotiriou made an intent to attack the ball.
A similar trend of the first half continued at the start of second as Liam Walker’s excellent left-footed deliveries wreaked havoc in the Cypriot defence, and this time it would prove costly.
A whipped cross to the far post found Ryan Casciaro at the far stick whose header was poorly flapped at by Panayi, and Lee Casciaro was there to head the ball over the line from close range.
Straight up the other end, Jason Demetriou hit a rasping effort from around 30 yards which was saved onto the crossbar, and headed in on the rebound by veteran defender Elias Charalambous only for the linesman’s flag to deny Cyprus once again, with another correct call.
Gibraltar, to their credit, never showed signs of settling for just a point and continued to threaten. Just before the hour-mark, they should have been ahead when another fine Walker delivery from a corner found Chipolina unmarked at the far post but, despite making clean connection with the volley, Panayi stooped low to deny.
Against the run of play, it took Cyprus until the 67th minute to restore their lead – Christofi’s low cross found Sotiriou, who then turned his defender well to make a yard of space for himself before finishing beyond Ibrahim for his first ever international goal at the 19th attempt.
It could have been game-over ten minutes later when Kastanos cut the ball back to the penalty spot for Sotiriou but his effort was denied by a combination of the keeper’s hand and the help of Ryan Casciaro on the line.
Eventually the game was put beyond any reasonable doubt with three minutes to go when Sielis rose well to powerfully head home from a corner to give Cyprus their first points of the campaign.
Cyprus’ next international game is on 25 March when they host Estonia at the GSP Stadium, where a much-improved performance will be necessary to get a result.
Summaries from the World Cup Qualifying European matches on Sunday
Hungary 4 Zoltan Gera 33, Adam Lang 43, Adam Gyurcso 73, Adam Szalai 88
Halftime: 2-0;Attendance: 20,000
– – –
Switzerland 2 Eren Derdiyok 27, Stephan Lichtsteiner 83
Faroe Islands 0
– – –
Cyprus 3 Kostas Laifis 29, Pieros Sotiriou 65, Valentinos Sielis 87
Gibraltar 1 Lee Casciaro 51
Red Card: Jayce Olivero 80
Halftime: 1-0;Attendance: 4,000