After their opening defeat to Belgium last month, Cyprus will be looking to get their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign up and running against Greece and while they may be seen as underdogs, recent history gives reason for optimism.
In what will be the first of two qualifiers in quick succession, Cyprus will be aiming to defy the odds and register their third straight competitive away win against a Greece side eager to put their Euro 2016 qualifying disaster behind them.
There will be extra spice added to the game due to the recent clash between Greece and Cyprus at club level. Just last week, at the same stadium as Friday’s fixture, Apoel sprung a huge surprise by defeating Greek champions Olympiacos 1-0 in Piraeus in the Europa League and could use the game as a blueprint to earn another shock result.
The man who grabbed that solitary goal for Apoel was Cypriot international striker Pieros Sotiriou, who is in the squad for the upcoming games against Greece and away to Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday.
Sotiriou has been training alone in the build-up to Friday’s match but coach Christakis Christoforou is hopeful that the centre-forward will be fully fit to start.
On the opposing side is one of Sotiriou’s club team-mates who was also part of that famous win at Olympiacos. Giannis Gianniotas is part of a new-look Greek side which is aiming to turn around the disappointment of their European Championship qualifying campaign which saw them finish bottom of their group with just one win in ten games.
Greece are certainly looking more confident this time around, having defeated the Netherlands in a friendly last month, in which Gianniotas scored the winner. They then got their World Cup campaign off to a good start, albeit against Gibraltar, with a 4-1 away victory.
In terms of recent form away from home, Cyprus have a good record. In their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, the team managed three wins on the road – against Bosnia, Andorra and Israel – something that had never previously been achieved by any Cypriot national side in the past.
In World Cup qualifying, history tells a rather harsher story, with Cyprus’ last away win coming back in 2005 against the Faroe Islands. However, having won their last two competitive away games, coupled with Apoel’s win over Olympiacos, it would be unwise to rule out the team’s chances of a big upset this time around.
Greece’s last World Cup qualifying campaign saw them go unbeaten at home, with four wins and one draw, although their Euro 2016 run was a completely different matter. The team slumped to four defeats before salvaging some pride in their final game at home to Hungary in a 4-3 win.
Cyprus and Greece have previously met on plenty of occasions in friendly matches but have only been drawn in the same group of an official competition once, for the qualifying phase of Euro 1988. Greece won both of those games – 4-2 in Athens and 3-1 in Nicosia.
Although there tends to be a friendly rivalry between the two nations, Friday’s clash promises to be much more than that with Cyprus no longer a team keen to just make up the numbers.
The match will kick-off at 9.45pm at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, where a large fan turnout is expected for both sides in what promises to be a hotly-competed game between the near neigbours.