Second from bottom of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group H, but all is not lost for Cyprus thanks to the exploits of the island's club teams in European competition this term.
Nikos Nioplias succeeded Angelos Anastasiadis as Cyprus coach in June after the latter had only guided them to two points from five qualifiers. A 3-2 friendly victory against Moldova has roused spirits to a degree, but it is the exploits of AEK Larnaca FC and APOEL FC which have been especially key to maintaining optimism in the Cyprus camp. Not only do APOEL have their second UEFA Champions League group stage campaign in three seasons to look forward to, but Larnaca have earned a berth in the UEFA Europa League.
"I think these results will definitely help the national team," said Larnaca's Jason Demetriou, also a part of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying earlier in the year. "We are all on a high right now.
There are some excellent individual players in our squad and it is just a question of getting them to click together."
While Nioplias is all too aware of the size of his task on his hands, he too agrees the future is bright. "I know Cypriot football has improved a lot," he said ahead of his first competitive game at the helm. "
Five or six years ago I would have dismissed the suggestion the island would have teams playing in the UEFA Champions League group stage and would be holding their own in the competition."
In fact, Cyprus started qualifying by more than holding their own themselves when they claimed a memorable 4-4 draw in Portugal almost a year to the day since they resume against the same nation on Friday. Though they are now eight points adrift of Paulo Bento's section leaders, Nioplias dismisses the notion there is nothing to play for.
"Not being able to qualify does not mean that we do not have targets and we must not allow anyone to believe that," said the former Panathinaikos FC coach. "I have faith in my players and their potential and I want them to play with their hearts on their sleeves. We will be aiming for the best possible results in our remaining games in the group and to win back the fans, something which will put us in good stead for the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers."
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