By Jay Mwamba
While rivals Ireland and Holland were posting impressive victories in friendly matches last Wednesday, little Cyprus turned on the style where it really mattered to climb into second position in Group 2 of Europe’s World Cup qualifying competition.
The Cypriots routed Andorra 5-0 in front of 6,000 fans in Nicosia to move to within a point of Group 2 leaders Portugal (7). Fourth-placed Ireland have five points.
Cyprus, who led 3-0 at halftime, scored through Yiannakis Okkas (10th, 18th), Marios Agathocleous (43rd), Marios Christodoulou (73rd), and Milenko Spoljaric (90th penalty).
They host Ireland in their next qualifier, on March 24. The Republic warmed up for that encounter with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Finland that extended their unbeaten run to seven matches.
Steve Finnan (14th), Kevin Kilbane (85th), and veteran Steve Staunton, in his 86th international appearance, connected for Ireland in Dublin.
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Showing that they will be a threat on the road when the World Cup qualifiers resume next spring, Holland came from a goal down to beat Spain 2-1 in Seville.
Spanish skipper Fernando Hierro shot his side ahead from a swerving free kick after 66th minute, but Chelsea goal-poacher Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink replied seven minutes for the Dutch.
Both scorers had been ejected for an off the ball incident when Frank de Boer, winning a record 85th cap for Holland, clinched it for the visitors with a late header (85th).
Following a tie and a loss in World Cup qualifiers to Ireland and Portugal, respectively, the onus is now on the Dutch to produce results on the road.
Portugal, the third force in Ireland’s qualifying group, were also in action last week, but made heavy weather of beating Isr’l 2-1 in Braga. Luis Figo, the $56 million man, (48th) and Jorge Costa (61st), were on target. Yossi Benayoun (85th) tallied for Isr’l in the friendly.
Only 537 fans turned out to watch 10-man Latvia squeak out a 1-0 decision, on Aleksandrs Jelisejevs’ strike (9th), in a Group 6 World Cup qualifier against San Marino. It was the first win in three attempts by the Latvians, who had Imants Bleidelis red-carded in the 81st minute, and it put them four points behind front runners Scotland (7).
For their part, the Scots suffered an ignominious 2-0 defeat by nondescript Australia in a Glasgow friendly. Brett Emerton (12th) and David Zdrilic (66th) scored for the Aussies, who chalked up a rare win in Europe.
AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso sent a youthful English squad reeling to a 1-0 defeat in Turin as the 1966 World Cup winners embarked on what they hope will be the long road back to the top of the international game.
Caretaker manager Peter Taylor wasn’t disappointed by the result, saying: "I couldn’t fault any of my players tonight and I thought we should have got something out of it. It was a shame to lose but being a friendly the performance is the most important thing."
Taylor will hand over the manager’s job vacated by Kevin Keegan to Sven Goran Eriksson, when the Swede’s contract with Italian champions Lazio ends next June.
Rudi Voeller’s three-match winning streak as German coach ended in Copenhagen where the three-time world champions were edged 2-1 by Denmark.
"The Danes played with more enthusiasm and that was key," Voeller said.
Dennis Rommedahl (56th, 66th) struck both Danish goals before Mehmet Scholl (81st) briefly raised German hopes.
"With a 2-2 draw we would have entered the winter break unbeaten but we didn’t deserve such a result," said Voeller.
In Istanbul, France put their championship pedigree on display, cruising past Turkey 4-0 in a friendly. Euro 2000 heroes David Trezeguet (15th) and Sylvain Wiltord (22nd); Johan Micoud (44th) and Lauren Robert (74th) connected for the World and European title holders.
The rest of the results from last week’s friendlies in Europe were: Tunisia 1 (Bouaziz 68), Switzerland 1 (Mario Cantaluppi 20th); Poland 1 (Tomasz Frankowski 61st pen.), Iceland 0; Greece 0, Slovakia 2 (Szilard Nemeth 18th, Peter Nemeth 72th); Romania 2 (Denis Serban 3rd Cosmin Barcauan 90th), Yugoslavia 1 (Sinisa Mihajlovic 87th).
Also, Albania 3 (Rudi Vata 45th, Erjon Bogdani 70th, 90th), Malta 0; card; Estonia 1 (Aivar Anniste 55th), Kyrgystan 0; and Algeria 1 (Madui 50th), Bulgaria 2 (Martin Petrov 38th, Hristo Yovov 70th).