Considered minnows for many years, Cyprus still have yet to
qualify for the finals of a FIFA World Cup™. In the qualifying
competition for the 2002 event, they only finished above tiny
Andorra, whom they beat twice, and points from two draws against
Estonia were hardly enough to see them through to the finals.
Nevertheless, the team from the third largest island in the Mediterranean have been drawing attention for all the right reasons. First, in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2000, they beat the mighty Spain 3-2. The defeat signalled the end of Javier Clemente's time as Spanish coach and made the world do a double-take.
When they almost upset another European giant thereafter, there was another double-take. In their opening match of the EURO 2004 preliminaries against France in Nicosia, Cyprus took the lead against the continental champions in the 15th minute through Yiannis Okkas. Zinedine Zidane and Co then struggled to break down the resilient Cypriot defence, before Djibril Cisse and Silvain Wiltord eventually produced the goals that saw Les Bleus turn the game around and avoid a humiliating defeat.
Cyprus followed up their outstanding performance against the French with just two wins against fellow Mediterranean islanders Malta to finish only above the latter in the table.
It was more of the same in the qualifiers for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. They were beaten home and away by the top four in Group 4 (France, Switzerland, Republic of Ireland and Israel) and seemed very much out of their depth. Despite boasting the skills of Michalis Konstantinou and Okkas up front, Cyprus have a lot to learn if they are one day to become serious qualification candidates.
They made progress during the preliminary campaign for EURO 2008, however, where they managed four wins including victories over Republic of Ireland and Wales. These results show that they are indeed learning and has left them in confident mood ahead of a tilt at reaching South Africa 2010.