Cyprus fail to hang on against Bulgaria
UEFA NATIONS LEAGUE - MATCHDAY 5
|Cyprus||1 - 1||Bulgaria|
|Zachariou 24'||Dimitriov (P) 89'|
Cyprus held a lead for most of the match until late, but in the end, had to settle for a 1:1 draw at home to Bulgaria in Friday’s UEFA Nations League fixture.
Ran Ben Shimon’s starting XI consisted of Konstantinos Panagi in goal, Renato Margaca, Kostas Laifis, Ioannis Kousoulos, and Giorgos Merkis who served as the captain in defense, Kostakis Artymatas, Chambos Kyriakou and Panagiotis Zachariou in the midfield, and at forward were Giorgos Efraim, Andreas Makris, and Andreas Avraam in a 4-3-3 formation. Bulgarian manager Petar Hubchev countered with Georgi Petkov in goal, Strahil Popov, Vasil Bozhikov, Nikolay Bodurov and Anton Nedyalkov in defense, Simeon Slavchev, Georgi Kostadinov, Todor Nedelev, and Galin Ivanov in midfield, and at forward, Bozhidar Kraev and the Captain, Ivelin Popov.
Ben Shimon and the CFA’s efforts to promote the national team only resulted in a slight bump in attendance at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia, and there was a sizable amount of visiting Bulgarian supporters. Bulgaria enjoyed much of the first half possession, and Todor Nedelev had a shot from distance that Konstantinos Panagi batted aside.
Nedelev led another attack where he looked for Bozhidar Kraev, but the Cypriot defense was ready and on the counterattack, a through ball found Panagiotis Zachariou, who not only was making his international debut, but was not even in the squad released by the CFA earlier in the week. Zachariou didn’t have much time to get the shot off with the Bulgarian defense racing back, but he did, and Georgi Petkov could only get a piece of it as it went in to give Cyprus a 1:0 lead against the run of play. Cyprus led 1:0 at halftime despite only having 40% of the possession.
In the second half, Bulgaria took over the play even more with Cyprus trying to hang on for dear life. The Cypriot defense took a good shape, and always seemed to make the play at the final moment. The pressure only intensified and Ivelin Popov screamed for a penalty when he was dragged down by his opposite Captain, Giorgos Merkis. The call could have gone either way, but it went for Cyprus. Cyprus almost made another counterattack count when substitute Onisiforos Roushias used his speed to earn a free kick in a good position. Renato Margaca served in the free kick for Kostakis Artymatas, who got a touch on the ball but sent it through Petkov’s arms and over the net. That miss may have loomed large.
Popov, angry about not getting the earlier call continued to go down easily in the box, always to no avail until he finally got the call he was looking for when he was hauled down by Kostas Laifis. In what could be seen as a makeup call for earlier, the penalty was given. Substitute Nikolay Dimitrov stepped up to take the penalty and sent Panagi the wrong way to level the score in the 89th minute.
Panagi had been so good all game, robbing Nikolay Bodurov just minutes earlier on a free header. Instead, Cyprus had to settle for a 1:1 draw in the end, meaning they mathematically cannot win the group. Norway and Bulgaria are tied atop the group with 10 points each while Cyprus have 5 points. Slovenia bring up the rear with 2 points and have been mathematically relegated to League D. Cyprus will play their group stage finale on Monday, staying at home to host Norway.