Cyprus 2-1 Malta
Two second-half goals ensured Cyprus secured their first points in UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 1 after a tough test from a brave Malta side in Nicosia.
Malta had lost all three of their matches going into the game, but proved well-organised in defence and gave as good as they got throughout.
The first half saw both sides create good chances. On 29 minutes, Cyprus's German-born forward Rainer Rauffmann received a clever through-ball from Yiannakis Okkas and rounded Maltese goalkeeper Mario Muscat, only to shoot just wide.
Malta go close
It was Malta's turn to go close next, when the experienced David Carabott found Daniel Bogdanovic, but his powerful shot was saved by Nicos Panagiotou in the Cypriot goal. Okkas and Michalis Konstantinou then missed for Cyprus, and Bogdanovic shot over for Malta after being put through by Michael Mifsud.
After the break, Cyprus began to take control, and within five minutes of the restart were ahead when Kostas Kaiafas sent in a curling cross and Rauffmann was on hand to head in his first goal for his adopted nation.
However, Malta refused to buckle, and continued to threaten on the counterattack. But Cyprus's pressure told again with 16 minutes left as newly-arrived substitute Yiasoumas Yiasoumi was supplied by Georgos Theodotou and dragged the ball across goal for Okkas to tap into the empty net.
A third nearly followed eight minutes later when Carabott's misplaced kick went towards his own goal, but the ball hit the post and Muscat collected.
Carabott then more than more up for his error in added time as his long ball from the right found Michael Mifsud unmarked and the 21-year-old forward made no mistake. Buoyed by this goal, Malta surged forward, but Cyprus's defence held firm and ensured the victory.
After the match, a relieved Rauffmann admitted: "All that mattered tonight was the three points. Anything other than victory would have been a defeat for us. Teams like Malta are teams we must beat." Of his own first international goal, he added: "I do not care who scored as long as we won."
'Tough to defeat'
And he was not surprised that Malta provided stiff opposition. "We had seen video footage of their three games up to now and knew they were very tough to defeat and they were difficult tonight. But we managed to break down their defence."
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