Cyprus hails Anorthosis' achievement
Cyprus celebrated on Thursday after Anorthosis Famagusta made history by becoming the first Cypriot side to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Around 4,000 fans gathered outside Larnaca airport early Thursday morning to welcome their heroes after Anorthosis qualified 3-1 on aggregate following a 1-0 reverse against Olympiakos in Athens.
"Anorthosis deserved this victory," team manager and former Newcastle player Temuri Ketsbaia told reporters. "We are very happy because as a small country we managed to get into the Champions League - for me the lads have already won it."
The team's unprecedented achievement as one of the smallest clubs to reach this stage of the competition dominated news schedules and hogged the newspaper headlines for a country starved of sporting success.
"The greatest achievement in Cyprus football," glowed Politis newspaper. Mass-selling Phileleftheros said a simple "Thank you" to the side also affectionately known as the 'Great Lady'.
"Historic qualification for the Great Lady of Cyprus football," said Simerini's front page. Moreover, the plaudits came from across the political spectrum with even the Archbishop of Cyprus offering his heartfelt congratulations.
The victory was greeted with wild celebrations in the club's hometown of Larnaca on the island's south coast. Bars, pubs and restaurants were packed with supporters watching the game on television on Wednesday night and a huge cheer echoed along the seafront when the final whistle blew.
A stream of cars honking horns and flashing lights crammed the streets as the night-long celebrations began. "This is a dream come true for me, Anorthosis and Cyprus," said fan Michalis Constantinou.
Anorthosis, founded in 1911, weree originally from the Turkish-held town of Famagusta and relocated to Larnaca following the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus prompted by a Greek-Cypriot coup. Qualification to the lucrative Champions League group stage is expected to give Anorthosis a cash injection of up to nine million euros - more than the Cyprus league generates in an entire season.