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Cyprus 1 Scotland 2
Nov 12 2011 By Gavin Berry in Larnaca
CRAIG LEVEIN hoped to find heroes of the future in Cyprus but it was one of the trusted old guard who again led the way as Kenny Miller set Scotland on the road to victory.
And on a day of remembrance in which the players were allowed to honour the country’s war dead, the Cardiff City striker scored a goal that is likely to live long in his memory.
Miller’s brilliant first-half effort was probably the sweetest of his 16 international strikes and it moved him into sixth place in the list of all-time top scorers for Scotland.
Now only Denis Law, Kenny Dalglish, Ally McCoist, Hughie Gallacher and Lawrie Reilly stand above the hitman after he underlined his worth to national boss Levein on his 58th cap.
Just short of his 32nd birthday, Miller has a big role to play in World Cup qualifying and will hopefully still be around to play his part in Brazil if he can help end a 16-year exile from major tournaments.
With seven call-offs, Levein wanted to see if others could handle international football and the possible long-term heir to King Kenny’s throne, Jordan Rhodes, was given the final three minutes as a replacement for Jamie Mackie.
QPR striker Mackie had grabbed Scotland’s second on the night and it was a great way for the 26-year-old to mark his international return after a year on the sidelines.
Demetris Christofi hit back for Cyprus just moments after Mackie’s 56th-minute strike to ensure a nervy finale.
It wasn’t all plain sailing in Larnaca with Cyprus - ranked 120th in the world - also striking the woodwork twice but Scotland held on to end a run of five away friendly defeats.
And Levein’s men have now won seven of their last 11 games.
The Scots hoped to be facing a pressure-pot Euro 2012 play-off last night but the reality was very different in this low-key encounter.
When Levein’s men walked out at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium, hardly a home fan was in attendance and what little atmosphere there was came from around 400 Tartan Army footsoldiers.
But the Scotland boss had placed plenty of importance on the fixture as the long road to Brazil started on this eastern Mediterranean island.
This was the first of four international dates Levein will make full use of before a competitive ball is kicked again.
He was desperate for another victory and admitted he would only experiment by handing some rookies their debuts if things were going to plan.
That approach saw him go for a strong starting line-up as Mackie was handed his first international appearance in almost a year to help continue his
And the odds favoured another morale-boosting away win with Cyprus one of only four nations not to win a single Euro 2012 qualifier, although they did manage a 4-4 draw in Portugal.
The home side threatened early on with Christofi picking out former Rangers man Georgios Efrem only for current Ibrox No.1 Allan McGregor to save his low shot.
Athos Solomou’s pinpoint cross from the right then found the unmarked Christofi inside the box but although he directed his header on target, it was easily saved by McGregor.
Mackie is only finding his feet again after a nine-month lay-off and he was on the receiving end of a nasty challenge from Jason Demetriou.
That forced Meir Levy - the Israeli who refereed during the Scottish whistlers’ strike last season - to dip into his pocket for a yellow card.
Scotland then suffered a scare when Efrem threatened again.
The striker turned two defenders to get a shot away but McGregor expertly tipped the ball on to the bar. Levein’s men were struggling to get in behind their opponents but Barry Robson’s crossfield pass found Miller only for the Cardiff ace to pull his shot wide.
Miller wouldn’t be denied, though, and broke the deadlock in 22 minutes with a gorgeous goal.
Christophe Berra picked him out with a long ball from defence and after a brilliant first touch Miller sent a dipping half-volley over Antonis Georgallides.
It was a milestone moment for the 31-year-old – and he enjoyed it.
Miller put his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest in celebration right in front of the fans who adore his efforts every time he pulls on the dark blue.
That should have been enough to allow Scotland to settle into their stride but the Cypriots replied almost immediately as Sinisa Dobrasinovic let rip from all of 30 yards. McGregor was beaten but the ball crashed back off a post.
However, the Scots began to up their game. Berra glanced a header wide from James Morrison’s free-kick and Mackie raced through only to see his shot saved by Georgallides.
Levein’s side then went agonisingly close to a second strike when Steven Whittaker sent a low ball across the box but with Miller and Robson waiting with the goal at their mercy, defender Giorgos Merkis got between them to clear.
Morrison’s deft chip was touched over just before the break with Scotland looking much more comfortable by the time they went in for refreshments.
They went in search of a quick second after the break and Robson saw a shot saved after working a short corner.
But there was nothing Georgallides could do when Mackie scored a superb solo goal to double the advantage.
The QPR ace burst into the box, beat two players and slotted a right-foot effort low into the net. That should have been Scotland safe but it was game on almost immediately when Marios Nikolaou found Christofi who lashed a first-time shot home.
Levein made some changes with Miller going off for Craig Mackail-Smith while James McArthur, Craig Conway, Stephen Crainey and then Rhodes were introduced.
Huddersfield youngster Rhodes almost had a dream start to his full international career at the death but his shot was parried by Georgallides.
Taken from the Daily Record