Cypriot stock continues to rise
Football was introduced to Cyprus early in the 20th century by the founding fathers of the game, the British, and is now the national game.
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Football was introduced to Cyprus early in the 20th century by the founding fathers of the game, the British. Initially played in the island's schools, the game proved hugely popular and a number of clubs were duly formed, including Anorthosis Famagusta FC in 1911.
As the sport became established, the clubs united in agreeing that an official body was needed to regulate it. In September 1934 the Cyprus Football Association (or Kypriaki Omospondia Podosfairon – hence KOP/CFA) was created, and matches were soon being played on an official basis. APOEL FC from Nicosia won successive championships between 1936 and 1940, before AEL Limassol FC broke that sequence by lifting the title in 1941.
The Cypriot national team lost their first international friendly 3-0 to Israel in Tel Aviv on 23 July 1949, a year after the KOP/CFA had become a member of the world governing body FIFA. In November 1960, following the country's independence from British rule, Cyprus took part in their first official game, a 1-1 draw with Israel in the first leg of a qualifier for the 1962 FIFA World Cup. The return leg was lost 6-1.
UEFA membership arrived in 1962, and the next year was perhaps even more momentous as Cyprus claimed a first international victory – beating Greece 3-1 on 27 November – and the island's clubs debuted in European competition. On 8 September 1963 APOEL defeated Norway's FC Lyn Oslo 6-0 in the European Cup Winners' Cup; Anorthosis would go down 3-0 to FK Partizan in the European Champion Clubs' Cup three days later.
Cypriot involvement in the UEFA Cup began in 1971 as Dighenis Morphou FC foundered 4-0 at AC Milan on 22 September. Whatever the on-field results, the extra competitiveness of such fixtures helped the local game improve. One indicator of this development was the export of Cyprus's best players, particularly to Greece. If Andreas Stylianou and Leonidas Leonidou are more recent examples of the trend, having left APOEL for Panionios GSS and Olympiacos FC respectively, earlier trailblazers were Panikos Kristallis (AEK Athens FC), Panikos Iakovou (Panathinaikos FC) and Pavlakis Vasiliou (Olympiacos).
In 1974 the national squad notched one of their most famous wins when a team of part-timers downed a Northern Ireland side featuring legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings and 1968 European Footballer of the Year George Best, 1-0 in Nicosia. Despite other similar triumphs on home soil, Cyprus had to wait until 1992 to record their first away success: 2-0 in the Faroe Islands. Results in qualifying tournaments have also picked up. Cyprus drew 1-1 with title holders Denmark en route to collecting seven points in qualification for EURO '96. Four years later they missed out on a place at UEFA EURO 2000 by a solitary point after victories over Spain and Israel.
Furthermore, the qualifying competition for UEFA EURO 2008, with Greek coach Angelos Anastasiadis in charge, brought the country more points (14) and more goals (17) than any previous campaign.
By 2001 Greek giants Panathinaikos were paying more than €10m for a Cypriot player, Iraklis FC's Michalis Konstantinou, as footballing talent flourished further on the island. Former national team captain Ioannis Okkas was another to star overseas, in the Greek and Spanish leagues with PAOK FC, AEK, Olympiacos and RC Celta de Vigo.
Since 2008, Cyprus has also enjoyed representation in the UEFA Champions League four times – Anorthosis Famagusta appearing once and APOEL in three campaigns – with the latter famously reaching the quarter-finals in 2012. Apollon Limassol FC, AEL Limassol, APOEL and AEK Larnaca FC have also participated in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League.
Having surpassed expectations in the Champions League, APOEL would repeat the feat during the 2016/17 season, when they finished top of their Europa League group above Olympiacos FC, BSC Young Boys and FC Astana before then eliminating Athletic Club. The dream ended in the Round of 16 against RSC Anderlecht.
With 78 clubs now directly affiliated to the CFA, and a further 300 linked indirectly through local amateur associations, the Cypriot league comprises three divisions. The season runs from mid-August to May. The CFA continually strives to enhance the standard of professional football in the country, in addition to developing youth and women's football, and futsal.