By Andreas Vou
A rare buzz of anticipation surrounds the Cyprus national side’s home match against Israel on Friday (9.45pm) with the players calling on the fans to help the team’s cause in what could trigger genuine hopes of qualifying for a major tournament.
Cyprus pulled off a shock 2-1 away win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in their opening UEFA Euro 2016 Group B qualifying match which put an end to a miserable run of 13 international matches without a win in Pambos Christodoulou’s first official game in charge.
The new qualifying format now not only sees the top two teams of each group advance, but also the best third-placed team while the remaining eight third-placed teams enter a playoff round, giving smaller nations like Cyprus a better chance of reaching the finals.
Demetris Christofi, who scored both goals against Bosnia, hopes that the fans will be present to get behind the team.
“We expect from the fans to be by our side at the match against Israel and I believe they will. It is the first time in the last few years that I can remember so much mobilisation from the public to come and see the national team and not some other big team.”
Attendances have been dire for home international matches over the years; the average number of supporters for each home game during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers stood at 1,439, the lowest of all nations bar Andorra.
San Marino, Liechtenstein and the Faroe Islands all had higher average attendances – three nations whose combined population only amasses to less than 10 per cent of Cyprus’.
Apollon full-back Marios Stylianou was also keen to reiterate the need to have a healthy crowd to help push them towards an important win.
“It is a very big match against Israel in our new attempt which we are making as a national team. We have to try game-by-game to get the three points. The win against Bosnia is certainly a motivator for our supporters and we want them by our side.
“We hope they come to the stadium to give us strength and we (the players), on our part, will try to give the best account of ourselves,” said the 21-year-old.
Christodoulou has a couple of injury concerns going into Friday’s encounter with APOEL wingers Giorgos Efrem and Stathis Aloneftis facing a race against time to shake of knocks.
Israel, managed by former AEL and Paralimni coach Eli Guttman, enjoyed a good qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup, amassing 14 points as they finished third behind Portugal and Russia. Away from home, they managed a respectable record of two wins, two defeats and one draw.
Cyprus’ last home win in an official match came at the beginning of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, a narrow 1-0 victory over Iceland. Since then, two defeats and two draws have followed and the team has failed to score in their last three games.
Cyprus have endured a poor spell on the international stage in recent years but a wave of optimism now surrounds the team after that impressive win in Zenica last month and another three points over Israel on Friday would provide the springboard for a fascinating campaign.