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Cyprus 1 Scotland 2
By Roddy Forsyth, Larnaca
A productive outing in Larnaca yielded Craig Levein a victory which will warm Scotland’s morale until their next friendly outing – against so far unspecified opponents in February – and brought him the satisfaction of seeing his Plan B 4-4-2 formation yield goals for the two spearhead players, Kenny Miller and Jamie Mackie.
The Scots might well have had a third when Jordan Rhodes made his international debut with only four minutes left to play but still found time to strike a drive that was only parried at full stretch by Tasos Kissos, who blocked the rebound attempt from Craig Mackail-Smith.
The Scots did not have everything their own way, as Dimirtis Cristofi emphasised when he netted soon after Mackie had scored and Levein’s players also benefited from a degree of good fortune, but all in all, the exercise was replete with positives.
“We played exceptionally well on occasion and I felt we were a little too careless in possession and as a result of that I thought we gave away a few too many chances,” Levein said.
“The first [goal] was fantastic as that’s something Kenny’s been working on and the second one was a fantastic piece of skill by Jamie Mackie.”
The occasion was about as far removed from the drama of the Euro 2012 play-offs which the Scots had hoped they would be involved in during this international window. Local interest in the fixture was reflective of the Cypriots’ deeply disappointing European Championship qualifying campaign – swathes of empty seats testified to their fans indifference – so that the Tartan Army made up the bulk of the meagre crowd.
In Levein’s prior warning that Cyprus could be dangerous in attack he cited their 4-4 draw away to Portugal in the Euro 2012 qualifiers as evidence, but that seemed at odds with the two points they took from a possible 24 in their group and the fact that they have slumped to a lowly 120th place in the Fifa rankings. However, with a touch more luck they would have made life very tough for the Scots in the first half.
Georgios Efrem – who was signed by Rangers as a teenager and lent to Dundee before he returned to his homeland to play for Omonia – chased a route-one ball straight through the heart of the Scottish defence for a fierce drive which Allan McGregor met with enough of a glove to divert it on to his crossbar.
The goalkeeper was not able to do as much when Sinisa Dobrasinovic stepped out of midfield to unleash a fizzing effort from 30 yards which curled away from McGregor and ricocheted off the top of his left hand post. Between times, though, Scotland did find the net – and in style.
Christophe Berra was the architect, eyeing the possibilities from midway inside Scottish territory before releasing Miller with a measured lob forward. Miller’s finish was impeccable as he killed the ball, took a stride and struck an arcing volley over the head of Antonis Giorgallidis as the Cypriot goalkeeper came off his line.
A less pleasing aspect of the proceedings was demonstrated by Cyprus when Jason Demetriou flattened Mackie to earn himself a caution, as did Dobrasinovic for a late challenge. The foul on Mackie prompted a sharp intake of breath in the Scottish ranks because the QPR attacker was making his first international start since suffering a double leg break in an FA Cup tie against Blackburn Rovers last January.
Happily, Mackie was able to work off his pain and 11 minutes into the second half he made his mark on the contest with a well worked goal that was the direct result of his own persistence. He gathered possession on the left edge of the penalty area with two opponents between him and the goal.
With clever shifts of feet Mackie eluded the pair in his path and, despite the tight angle, he found his mark in the far corner of the net with a trim low drive beyond Giorgallidis. Coming as it did at the end of a lively interchange of attacks, Mackie’s strike seemed to mark a decisive assertion by the Scots, but within moments Cyprus had replied in kind.
It was not a highlight of the evening from the point of view of the Scottish defence, particularly Phil Bardsley, who was caught on the turn by Christofi and could only watch in frustration as the Omonia forward clipped his shot away from McGregor and inside the far post. This roused Cyprus to take the game to Scotland as much as possible in search of an equaliser, a development which exposed them to regular Scottish breaks but although there were no more goals, Scotland ended in lively spirits ahead of their long return flight this afternoon.
Cyprus (4-4-2): Giorgallidis (Kissas h-t); Demetriou (Sielis h-t), Parpas (Nikolaou 55), Merkis, Nektarious (Katsis 69); Solomov, Satsias, Dobrasinovic (Vasileiou 74), Avraam (Hytidis h-t); Efrem, Christofi. Subs: Mastrov (g); Charalambous, Katsis, Stavrov. Booked: Demetriou, Dobrasinovic.
Scotland (4-4-2): McGregor (Rangers); Whittaker (Rangers), Caldwell (Wigan), Berra (Wolves), Bardsley (Sunderland); Robson (Middlesbrough), Cowie (Cardiff), Fletcher (Man Utd), Morrison (West Brom), Miller (Cardiff), Mackie (QPR).
Referee: M Levy (Israel).
Taken from telegraph.co.uk