Κύπρος / Kıbrıs / Cyprus
- Capital: Nicosia / Λευκωσία / Lefkoşa
- Official Languages: Greek, Turkish
- Minority Languages: Armenian, Cypriot Arabic
- Nicknames: n/a
- Association: Cyprus Football Association (CFA) / Κυπριακή Ομοσπονδία Ποδοσφαίρου (ΚΟΠ) / Kıbrıs Futbol Federasyonu (KFF)
- FIFA Code: CYP
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 43rd (September 2010)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 92nd (December 2009)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 142nd (June 2014)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 128th (November 2010)
- Most Capped Player: Ioannis Okkas – 106 caps
- Top Scorer: Michalis Konstantinou – 32 goals
The Republic of Cyprus (Κυπριακή Δημοκρατία / Kıbrıs Cumhuriyeti) is an island nation situated in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, with Turkey located to the north of the island, and Syria and Lebanon located to the east. Originally a British crown colony, the country became members of FIFA in 1948 before becoming members of UEFA in 1962, two years after achieving their independence. Cyprus would play Israel in both their first international game (a 3-1 defeat in 1949), and their first game as an independent nation (drawing 1-1 in 1960).
Traditionally one of the weaker nations within UEFA, the Cypriots have yet to qualify for either a World Cup or European Championships. It’s not since the turn of the millennium when their fortunes in international football have improved, with the country achieving many impressive results – the most well-known being a 5-2 defeat of the Republic of Ireland the Euro 2008 qualifiers. Inspired by the amazing achievements of their domestic clubs in European competitions, especially APOEL who reached the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals in the 2011-12 season, the Cypriots have produced some formidable sides recently which are capable of defeating any team in Europe on their day, and are always considered a tricky side to overcome.
Currently Cyprus are a third-tier ranked side within the UEFA Nations League, but after finishing bottom of their group with Montenegro, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, they must play a two-legged playoff against Estonia in Spring 2022 to avoid relegation to the bottom tier of European football. In the draw for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, Cyprus were considered the second-best side in ‘Pot 5’ of the European draw, and were subsequently placed in a favourable-looking group alongside Croatia, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Malta. The islanders have started off well by having earnt themselves four points from their first three group games.
Talking about one of Europe’s more difficult sides to face who are currently fighting to continue to compete in Division C of the UEFA Nations League, we interviewed the excellent John Leonidou. He is a very talented Cypriot sports writer who is the official football correspondent on Cypriot football for UEFA.com, UEFA’s official website. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @UEFAcomJohnL
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
With regards to players and in terms of success and records, I would probably have to say former striker Michalis Konstantinou (1993-2013). He was once a record signing in Greece (switching between hated rivals Panathinaikos to Olympiakos) and had huge trophy success there. He also scored some big goals in the UEFA Champions League for both Panathinaikos and Olympiakos. He is still Cyprus’ all-time leading scorer with 32 goals. Other notable mentions include fellow forwards Yiannis Okkas, Sotiris Kaiafas, and Andreas Stylianou.
In terms of managers, it’s difficult to pinpoint an outright best manager because being Cyprus, results under even the most successful of the island’s managers have included impressive wins and big losses. Going by the most impressive results, I think Greek boss Angelos Anastasiades (2004-2011) tops the list. His most standout results include wins over the Republic of Ireland (5-2), Wales (3-1), and Bulgaria (4-1), as well as eye-catching draws against Germany (1-1) at home, Republic of Ireland (1-1) away, and Portugal (4-4) away. Andreas Michaelides (1991-1996) is credited with improving Cyprus’ performances during the early nineties.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
That’s a tough one. Cyprus has never really had a standout cult hero but if I have to choose one then I feel speedy winger Stathis Aloneftis (2005-2017) would be the one. With his long wavy hair, extensive tattoos and beard, he looked more like a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers than a professional footballer. One thing that was never in doubt was his talent. He scored and assisted some big goals for both Cyprus and his clubs but would always be somewhat in the shadows of the national side’s big hitters, Konstantinou and Okkas.
It’s even tougher singling out a present cult hero because results (up until the last few games) have been poor in the last few years. Left-back Nicholas Ioannou came through the youth ranks of Manchester United before arriving onto the scene in Cyprus at a very young age. He is still appreciated for his tireless work rate both at the back and going forward.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Cyprus currently?
There simply isn’t a standout best player at the moment. Even the players plying their trade in bigger leagues such as Italy or Belgium are not heads and shoulders above the rest. They work as a collective unit with some of the best performers being goalkeeper Demetris Demetriou [22 year-old playing at Apollon Limassol], defender Kostas Laifis [24 year-old at Belgian club Standard Liège], and striker Pieros Sotiriou [28 year-old currently playing for Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad].
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
The last three games under new boss Nikos Kostenoglou have been very encouraging after some very bad results under previous boss Johan Walem. A win, draw and a defeat from their opening three games is far cry from their previous UEFA Nations League campaign. Cyprus have looked very difficult to score against even if they are struggling to convert to score themselves at the other end. They are looking compact, organised and it looks like belief and a feel-good factor has already been instilled back into the dressing room by the Greek coach.
Q. Are there any Cypriot players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
Three players come to mind in terms of youngsters that could potentially have big careers ahead of them. Omonia teenagers Loizos Loizou [17 year-old winger] and Marinos Tzionis [19 year-old midfielder] have looked good for their club sides even if they are yet to cement starting places in the Cyprus national side. They’ve already had a taste of UEFA Europa League group stage football this season and are being tipped to go onto big things. Apollon goalkeeper Demetris Demetriou (22) has also looked solid this season and looked a composed figure in goal for Cyprus before picking up a recent injury.
Q. Looking at Cyprus’ international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
The 5-2 win over the Republic of Ireland in 2006 is probably their greatest ever result given the size of the win and the level of opposition at the time.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Cyprus have been on the end of some real drubbings down the years including monumental losses in West Germany (12-0) and Spain (8-0). But probably their worst defeats/performances came against Luxembourg (2-0) and Montenegro (4-0) in the previous Nations League campaign.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Cypriot national team?
I suppose the best thing about being a Cyprus supporter is that any win or draw against a team ranked higher than you is a bonus. Cyprus have never reached a major tournament and, traditionally, they’ve always been there for the taking for most sides. Things have now obviously changed and they’re no longer on the same level as sides such as San Marino, Andorra or Gibraltar. But there is still a somewhat underdog mentality amongst the home fans so a win or notable draw is savoured that little bit more.
The worst thing about being a fan of the national team is the lack of unity. The devout following of the local club sides on the island has created a division among fans and, in some cases, a hated rivalry. Since the nineties, local fans have rarely packed a stadium to cheer on the national side and when results are not going well, the crowd numbers are very, very low. The Cyprus FA is constantly looking for ways to generate a big following for the national side.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
No, there is no unofficial anthem but ‘Zorba the Greek‘ is blared out across the stadium during half time at matches. That sometimes get the home fans and especially the away fans going.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
I especially liked the all-white kit with dabs of green and yellow during the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Cypriot national team?
My hopes is that Cyprus could one day qualify for a major tournament. That is the overall ambition of the Cyprus FA. Smaller nations like Iceland and Latvia have done it so there is still hope.
A massive Ευχαριστώ πολύ to John for answering our questions on the Cypriot national team. Remember you can find their excellent social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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