SUPPORTERS of the Cyprus national team were told last night that they could learn a lot from the Tartan Army.

Manager Ran Ben Shimon, who has been in the post since July 2017, spoke yesterday of his admiration for the fact that Scotland are taking a travelling support in the region of 3,000 for this afternoon’s match in the GSP stadium in Nicosia, despite languishing in fourth place in Group I.

By contrast, apathy seems to be the order of the day when it comes to this Cypriot squad, even though they currently sit one point and one place better off.

Little wonder Ben Shimon called for the home fans to turn up to ensure that they are not outnumbered and outsung this afternoon.


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“Tomorrow at the stadium there will be around 3,000 Scotland fans despite their team being fourth place in the group and I think this is a good example for Cypriot fans,” said Ben Shimon. “It’s an example Cyprus should follow, to support our national team despite the results and the standings. I have confidence in my team but the main important thing is to ask is that we are playing in a good stadium and we ask the people who grew up in this society to come and support us.”

Having the lion’s share of the crowd, mind you, comes with no guarantees. The Republic of Ireland famously brought a travelling support of around 15,000 to this 22,000-capacity stadium – which is also used by Apoel and Omonia Nicosia – back in 2006 only to leave on the wrong end of a 5-2 European Championship qualifier.

Ben Shimon, whose own contract expires after Tuesday’s last group match away to Belgium, feels that pipping Scotland to third spot would represent a giant leap forward for this current group of players. The first time Cyprus have hosted Scotland in a qualifier since a famous 3-2 win secured deep into injury time by Richard Gough, Cyprus’ results against big guns Belgium and Russia put ours to shame. They lost just 1-0 in Moscow, and kept Belgium down to two goals here.

“It doesn’t matter about contracts,” said Ben Shimon. “I have to keep focussing all my energy for the best of the national team.

“What is supposed to happen will happen, the most important thing is to be ready for this game and to take Cyprus to the next stage and the next level.”

“When we drew this group, it was going to be very difficult with Belgium and Russia. But to be in this position where we could still finish third is a great achievement.


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“Playing for the national team is always big motivation for everybody but tomorrow we have an even bigger one because we are fighting for third place,” he said. “If we get that it will be a big step forward for the Cyprus national team, it would take the ceiling a little bit higher.

“It’s such an important task for our national team. I see my players during the week and they are prepared for this challenge.”

Ben Shimon was respectful of the Scotland team he faces, although it took a last minute Oli Burke goal to settle the previous match at Hampden in March. His star man is striker Pieros Sotiriou, who now plays his club football at FC Copenhagen in Denmark.

“We were in Scotland and we know this country has a big tradition for football,” he said. “People are so into football there, it’s a big, big source of energy. I take a lot of positive things from our last visit to Scotland, on how to learn and approach football.

“But I try to focus on our national team and what our targets are. The fact we are very close to Scotland in terms of who will finish third, and even have a small advantage, is a small step forward. For us tomorrow it’s the biggest step forward we can take if we win this game.”

Captain Giorgos Merkis Giorgos Merkis said his team would be ready for a match which could be played amid uncomfortably hot mid-afternoon conditions even in November.

“We are ready physical and mentally for the game,” said Merkis. “It’s a big day for us and we will be ready for the challenge we have ahead of us.”