Nowhere to hide after Valetta nightmare

6 mins read

It might be a blessing that nobody bothers with the Cyprus national team after their embarrassing capitulation to Malta in a World Cup qualifier this week.

Malta was a team that Cyprus was expected to score points from in what looks like a daunting qualifying group that includes Croatia, Russia, Slovenia, and Slovakia.

This was supposed to be the perfect fixture for Cyprus, get a victory over the “minnows” of the group to boost confidence for tougher challenges ahead.

But it is Cyprus languishing at the bottom of the group after the 3-0 drubbing.

Before the Malta debacle, Cyprus had only lost to Croatia by a single goal while drawing with Slovakia and beating Slovenia in the qualifiers.

Although no giants of world football, Cyprus is ranked way above Malta’s 177th in the FIFA ranking, although 99th place, below Lebanon, is nothing to boast about.

Instead, on Wednesday, we witnessed a surrender of worrying magnitude that should shame everyone involved, even if the fans stopped caring a long time ago.

Because if they did care, they would have lit up every switchboard on any radio station that bothered to invite public opinion on the dreadful scoreline in Malta.

The nightmare in Valetta was arguably the nadir of Cyprus football; even if the team did go down to ten men, they showed a lack of spirit or determination.

Granted, Cyprus isn’t expected to pull up trees in world football, but it is required to be competitive with a passion and pride for the shirt.

Like Arsenal, they seemed to have forgotten the football basics of teamwork, defending, positional play and running.

That has nothing to do with the player’s talent or quality; it’s understanding the game and doing what needs to be done on the pitch.

Manager Nikos Kostenoglou did not cover himself with glory either, sending out a team ill-prepared for the fight and seemingly uncomfortable with the formation.

The Cyprus Football Association and the players should come out and publicly apologise for losing 3-0 to a team that hasn’t won a World Cup qualifier at home.

Tweet, tweet

Nevertheless, the CFA showed its true colour by not tweeting the score even though they promoted the game on Twitter during the build-up.

Although this may have more to do with the habit of most backwards-looking Cypriot organisations who think it’s a good look to be on Twitter but ignore using it.

A bit like that abandoned power drill you thought was a good purchase.

Maybe it’s a window into the type of people who run these bodies.

Take the Cyprus Sports Organisation, for example, Karolina Pelendritou breaks a world record and wins gold at the Paralympics, and its Twitter page is silent.

With this kind of encouragement for sporting prowess, who needs critics?

Over the last decade, Cyprus football has not improved on the international stage despite Cypriot clubs doing relatively well in Europe.

There seems to be no coherent blueprint on the way forward or what they want to achieve – only pub teams turn up and hope for the best.

The most activity registered is when another failed manager walks out the door.

There is a lack of expectation and love for the national team, but that is on the players and those who run the game.

Supporters want to see a team that tries, that really cares and plays for each other.

A team that hurts when defeated, even if they are not expected to win.

Cyprus has to think big, invest in the game at the grassroots, nurture a mentality of putting the national team first.

That means the clubs bringing Cypriot players through their academies and giving them opportunities in the first team.

It takes investment and better coaching at all levels, even establishing a school of excellence for boys and girls.

Once the fans see a structure, method, and plan emerge, they will start returning to watch the team.

I’m not sure things could get any worse after the underwhelming reaction to one of Cyprus’ most depressing defeats ever.

They can’t even argue that Cyprus is only a small island nation – look at the results that Luxembourg and Iceland can achieve.

These countries are not football powerhouses, but they excel as national teams with smaller populations than Cyprus.

Cyprus play Russia at home on Saturday (7 pm); they will be looking to make amends, but there will be very few believers watching – and that’s the saddest truth of all.

Nobody is talking about the national team.