By Andreas Vou
FOLLOWING two successive defeats, Cyprus returned to winning ways in Euro 2016 qualifying with an emphatic 5-0 win over Andorra on Sunday night in Nicosia.
A series of freak results which took place in the days leading up to the game served as a healthy warning to Pambos Christodoulou’s men that, despite Andorra’s minnow status, there could be no complacency in what was a must-win game.
On Saturday, Liechtenstein ended a ten-year wait for a competitive away win when they beat Moldova while San Marino ended a run of 61 straight defeats to earn a draw against Estonia. But the result which would have been in the mind of the players most was one which took place closer to home, as the Faroe Islands, 187th in FIFA’s world rankings, recorded a shock 0-1 win over Greece.
Any early Cypriot nerves were quickly calmed as Giorgos Merkis beat the Andorra keeper to the inswinging corner to nod Cyprus into the lead after just ten minutes.
From then on, there was only one team in it.
With Constandinos Makrides sidelined though injury, Christodoulou opted for an offensive-minded tweak to the lineup, replacing the combative midfielder with AEK forward Nestoras Mitidis, and the decision paid dividends.
The 23-year-old drilled a low cross into the box perfectly into the path of Giorgos Efrem to put Cyprus 2-0 up on 31 minutes. It was the former Arsenal academy player’s first senior international goal but his night was about to become even better.
Three minutes before the break, Demetris Christofi went on a surging run down the left flank, before cutting the ball back to Efrem. The APOEL forward took on his defender with a clever feint before tucking the ball into the near corner of the net.
There would be little respite for Andorra in the second half either. On the hour-mark, a cross from Marios Antoniades was tipped to the feet of Efrem who was on hand to thrash the ball into the roof of the net, making him the first ever player to score a hat-trick for Cyprus.
“I had been waiting for my first goals with the national team, but the important thing is that we have reached six points in the group,” Efrem said modestly after the game. “We will prepare appropriately for the coming matches as a difficult run lies ahead.”
Christofi completed the rout from the spot, albeit at his second attempt after having to retake the kick due to encroachment into the penalty area from his teammates.
The 5-0 scoreline equals Cyprus biggest ever win on the international stage, which was also against Andorra back in 2000.
Judging from manager Pambos Christodoulou’s passionate celebration for the opening goal of the night, it was clear that an early goal was a priority, knowing that the longer the game went on, the more the recent results elsewhere on the continent would creep into the player’s minds.
“Apart from surprises that have happened in Europe in plenty of matches, we have seen Andorra losing to Wales in the 93rd (minute) and against Israel equalising and remaining in the game until the 70th (minute),” implying that his side wary that Andorra were capable of an upset.
“All of the games are difficult but what pleased me the most is that the team is beginning to change leve. With both young and experienced players, we are beginning to unite and reach a higher step,” the 47-year-old added.
The win takes Christodoulou’s side above Belgium into third place in Group B following their goalless draw at home to Wales and the Red Devils are Cyprus’ next opponent on 28 March in Brussels.
Despite currently occupying a play-off spot, the manager remained coy on Cyprus’ chances of qualifying.
“Nobody knows what can happen in the group. I told you after the win against Bosnia that we are the outsiders.”