Saturday, January 10, 2009

The day Cypriot football conquered the Greeks

One of the best stories of the recent Champions League Qualifiers is that a team from the small Island of Cyprus Anorthosis Famagusta, population less than 1 million, has made the groups stages of the Champions League.

To get there they beat Austria Vienna over 2 legs then faced Greek champions Olympiakos. In the first leg Anothosis beat the Greek Champions 3-0 at home.

With Cypriot pride fueling Anorthosis’ qualifying campaign, the return leg in Piraeus was billed as “the most important match in Cypriot football history.”

Before the match in Greece several light injuries were reported and one supporter was taken to hospital as police in full riot gear tried in vain to shield the visiting Cypriot supporters who were stoned as they got off the train by a mob who had gathered on the facing platform.

Television pictures showed Anorthosis fans draped in Greek flags, ducking and sprinting for shelter under a rain of stones, while riot police clashed with the hooligans.

“You’re animals,” one Cypriot fan screamed at a Greek television camera. “We weren’t even treated like this in Turkey,” he said referring to the Famagusta club’s high octane visit to Trabzonspor in 2005 where they Turkish team 3-1 in the first leg of their second round Champions League qualifying match. They lost the second leg 1-0 in Turkey, but progressed 3-2 on aggregate.

Inside the stadium, fans taunted the Cypriot refugee club as “Ottomans”.

The Greeks only managed a 1-0 home win giving Anorthosis a 3-1 aggregate victory and the first time a Cypriot side has made the champions league group stages.

After the game Anorthosis Coach Timur Ketsbia former Newcastle United and AEK Athens player said “This win belongs to the players. They faced a great team such Olympiakos and came out as winners. If you asked me, these players won the Champions League today!”

What makes this victory more remarkable is that Anorthosis was founded in Famagusta in January 30th 1911. After the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus in 1974, Anorthosis became a refugee team and is temporarily based in Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium in Larnaca a part of Cyprus that is not occupied by Turkey.

Anorthosis Home Stadium in occupied Famagusta is G.S.E. (Gymnastic Club Evagoras) which has been abandoned and has been in bad condition since 1974. The reward for making the group stages are games against another Greek side Panathanikos, Jose Mourinho’s new side Inter Milan and the German side Werder Bremen.

The results of Cypriot sides beating Greek teams didn’t end there with Omonia Nicosia beating Nathan Burns new team AEK Athens which also contained Brazilian Star Rivaldo. Amonia beat AEK in Greece in the first leg 1-0 and drew in Cyprus 2-2. Amonia Nicosia now faces Manchester City in the next stage.

I have a mixed background half Geek and half Cypriot and I was pulling for the underdog Cypriots in these games.

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