Cyprus remain second bottom in UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 1 despite collecting a 2-1 win against Malta on Saturday which condemned Siegfried Held's side to their seventh successive defeat in the section.
Malta, who are in last place and are yet to collect a point from seven games, got off to the worst possible start when Saviour Darmanin was dismissed for a challenge inside the area and Michalis Konstantinou converted the resulting spot-kick. The same player then doubled the visitors' lead early in the second half, before Luke Dimech managed a consolation goal for the home side.
Konstantinou, however, denied the sending off made the victory any easier. "The match proved to be very difficult even if Malta were down to ten players early on," he said. "But I am happy with the result and the three points."
Malta striker Michael Mifsud disagreed. "The red card dented our chances of getting a good result," he said. "Down to ten men, we all knew it was going to be difficult, but we did well after the break and even got back into it with a late goal. We showed character but time was up."
Cyprus dominated the opening exchanges and the pivotal moment came in the 21st minute when Konstantinou surged into the box only to be brought down by Darmanin, then dusted himself off to score the spot-kick. The rest of the first half was closely contested and neither side fashioned any meaningful chances before the interval.
Any hopes Malta had of clawing themselves back into contention faded nine minutes after the break when Ioannis Okkas' delicately placed pass released Konstantinou to squirm a low shot under the body of the diving Muscat.
Malta threw men forward in search of a response and their efforts were rewarded in the 72nd minute as Dimech rose above the defence to send a cross from the left past Cypriot keeper Nikos Panayiotou. The goal inspired the home team and visiting defence were forced to hold firm as they pushed relentlessly for an equaliser in the dying stages.