TIRANA – Cyprus' 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign got off to a bad start against Albania on Friday night after two late goals inflicted a bitter 3-1 defeat on Nicos Nioplias’ side in Group E.
Albania had taken the lead through Armando Sadiku’s freekick but Cyprus answered back just before the interval through a freekick of their own. Vincent Laban – making his official debut in Cyprus colours since being handed a Cypriot passport in the summer – levelled with a clever striker past goalkeeper Samir Ujkani. Cyprus struggled to hold possession at the initimidating Qemal Stafa Stadium and their problems mounted when Nioplias was forced to change goalkeeper Antonis Georgallides with Anorthosis number two Christos Mastrou.
Cyprus had little in terms of chances and possession but they almost stole the lead midway through the second half. Emilian Vila’s attempted clearance under pressure spun off his foot and struck the woodwork but captain Lorik Cana was on hand to head the ball clear. Cyprus struggled to orchestrate anything in attack with Michalis Constantinou cutting a frustrating figure while Stathis Aloneftis and Constantinos Makrides struggled in vain to find an opening.
Meanwhile at the back, Mastrou’s lack of international experience was made blatently apparent on 82 minutes when he came racing off his line but was caught square as subsitute Edgar Cani drove an easy header into the Cypriot net. Any hopes for a late comeback were ended minutes later when another substitute, Erjon Bogdani, drive an unstoppable strike from outside the area into Mastrou’s top corner.
Cyprus will need to quickly pick themselves up to host Iceland in Larnaca on Tuesday while Nioplias knows he will need come up with something quick if the island want to avoid another disastrous qualifying campaign.
The other games in the group ended in impressive 2-0 victories for Iceland and Switzerland who beat Norway and Slovenia respectively.