The Cyprus national football team host Estonia at the GSP Stadium on Saturday in what is a must-win encounter in order to cling onto any hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
Sitting in fourth place, seven points behind Greece who sit in second, with just one win and three defeats, there is no more room for error when Estonia come to town for Christakis Christoforou’s men.
The team prepared for Saturday’s match-up with a midweek 3-1 friendly win over Kazakhstan. After going a goal down in the first half, goals from Nestoras Mytides, 20-year-old debutant Fanos Katelaris and Demetris Christofi gave Cyprus a morale-boosting win.
The manager will be without a few key players for the upcoming qualifier. Apoel winger Giorgos Efrem remains a long-term absentee through injury while yellow cards in the previous qualifier against Gibraltar for full-back Jason Demetriou and in-form striker Pieros Sotiriou means they are ruled out through suspension.
Young Apoel centre-back Nick Ioannou was set to make his first senior cap but has not made the squad due to injury while fellow defender Dossa Junior is also out.
After coming off the bench against Kazakhstan, there could be an official debut for naturalised Portuguese player Renato Margaca, who has been plying his trade on the island since 2008 and has thus obtained a Cypriot passport.
Speaking to the press on Friday afternoon, manager Christoforou spoke of just how crucial the upcoming game is to their hopes.
“It is of massive importance,” he began. “It is like a final, that is how we must approach the game. My players gave a good account of themselves in all of the matches until now. We lost points due to minor details and we want them back”.
He continued: “There will changes from the match against Kazakhstan, both in terms of personnel and our approach to the game,” before adding that “we have a lot of motivation to achieve good results”.
Estonia have had a rotten time on their travels in official competition. Their last win on the road came in a narrow 1-0 victory over Andorra back in 2012, and have since lost nine and drawn one. Their last away point was against San Marino, which ended the minnows’ run of 61 losses, while their most recent official trip ended in an 8-1 defeat to Belgium.
Cyprus tend to be a lot stronger at home than away, but have lost four of their last five matches on the island in official competition, with the 3-1 win over Gibraltar in November last year breaking the bad run.
The match kicks off at 7.00pm Cyprus time, at the GSP Stadium, where both sides need the win as much as the other and where anything less won’t cut it for either team.