UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier
Cyprus 1 - 2 Scotland
Saturday, 16 November 2019, kick-off 2.00pm
GSP Stadium, Nicosia
Scorers: Scotland - Christie (12), McGinn (53)
Cyprus – Efrem (47)
Scotland continued the march towards their Spring Euro 2020 playoff with a comfortable, morale boosting victory over Cyprus in Nicosia thanks to goals from Ryan Christie and John McGinn.
It was a game of firsts for Steve Clarke and his side; a debut cap for Declan Gallagher, a first start for Ryan Jack, a first international goal for Christie, a maiden appearance for the new kit and an inaugural away win for Scotland under the manager’s stewardship.
The game started with Cyprus on the front foot, and Scotland were fortunate to survive a sixth minute scare. Excellent work from Fotios Papoulis found George Efrem in the box, and the forward showed excellent skill to turn Declan Gallagher and crash a shot off the underside of the bar, which bounced down and clear. Replays suggested that the ball had crossed the line, but with no goal line technology in operation, the scores remained level.
Whilst that was a lucky moment for Scotland, there was nothing fortuitous about the manner in which they took the lead six minutes later. An excellent turn and pass from McGinn freed Christie down the right flank and, with the Cypriot defence anxiously retreating, Christie was allowed the time and space to drive on.
As he approached the edge of the box the Celtic man unleashed a mesmerising, measured strike with a wave of his left foot that curled over Urko Pardo, before nestling in the top corner for the midfielder’s first goal in the dark blue.
Scotland controlled the first half, but the Cypriots were playing a stuffy containment game, and neither side was able to settle into a rhythm on a bobbly pitch. David Marshall was called into action in the 26th minute to make a smart save, diving low to push away a long range drive from Pieros Sotiriou. But, that effort aside, Scotland remained comfortable.
However there was nothing comfortable about the opening stages of the second half at all. Within two minutes of the restart, Scott McKenna had been booked for a foul on the edge of the area, and from the resulting passage of play, the Cypriots were level.
From the free kick that drifted across the box debutant Gallagher did as well as could be expected to head clear but, as the ball dropped to him 18 yards from goal, Efrem produced an unbelievable piece of skill and technique to smash a volley that fizzed past Marshall into the top corner for the equaliser.
But the state of deadlock lasted a mere six minutes as the Scots roared back into the lead. James Forrest and Greg Taylor combined down the left, deep inside the Cyprus half and, when the left back swung in a cross, there was John McGinn - fast becoming a talisman for the Tartan Army - arriving in the box to cushion the ball home for his fifth goal in five games for his country. The Aston Villa man made it look easy, but it truth it was a fabulously controlled strike to nudge his side in front.
As the second half wore on, both sides made changes in a bid to affect the status quo but, as the game became increasingly niggly, Steven Naismith’s 50th cap came to an end early through injury, Oli McBurnie replacing him.
Cyprus had opportunities to draw level, and both Ioannis Costi and Dimitris Theodorou should have done better with their efforts, although neither forced Marshall to make a save.
With five minutes of injury time producing some nervous moments for the 3000 strong Tartan Army, a real positive for Steve Clarke and the whole nation will be the resilience the team showed to not only recover from the blow of the Cypriot equaliser to restore their lead, but the strength of character to close out the match.
A win at home to Kazakhstan on Tuesday will guarantee third place in the group, and provide real momentum going into that all important crunch play off in March.
Cyprus: Pardo, Demetriou*, Karo (42, Kastanos), Merkis (capt), Kousoulos, Ioannou, Kosti, Papoulis, Kyriakou (77,Theodorou), Efrem (74, Spoljaric), Sotiriou*
Substitutes not used:, Zachariou, Avraam, Kissas, Wheeler, , Artymatas, Christoforou, , Ioannou, Michael, Economides
Scotland: Marshall; Palmer*, Gallagher, McKenna*, Taylor*; McGinn*, McGregor*, Jack; Forrest (72, Burke), Naismith (62, McBurnie), Christie (90+2, Devlin)
Substitutes not used: McLaughlin, Shinnie, Fleck, , Morgan, Armstrong, Shankland, MacGilliviray, O’Donnell, Porteous