Scotland maintained their record of beating Cyprus on every occasion the countries have met when they prevailed in this Euro 2020 qualifier in Nicosia, although the Cypriots were aggrieved that they had not been granted an early lead when they claimed that a shot from Georgios Efrem had crossed the Scottish goal line, but was not spotted by the Austrian match officials who did not have VAR as back-up.

Efrem – an Arsenal academy graduate who once had a spell with Rangers without playing a game for the Ibrox side – did get his name on the scoresheet just after the interval, when he volleyed home an attempted clearance from Declan Gallagher to make it 1-1. The Scots’ had taken the lead after 11 minutes when Ryan Christie gathered a prompt from John McGinn and flighted a delectable curling drive from 20 yards high into the far corner of the Cypriot net.

It was McGinn who snapped up a pass from Greg Taylor a few yards out and shot past Urko Pardo to restore Scotland’s advantage four minutes after Efrem’s goal. Steve Clarke’s players held on to record a seventh victory from as many meetings with Cyprus since the countries first met in 1968.

The result saw the Scots leapfrog their hosts into third place in the Group I table, the compensatory target set by Clarke when their chances of qualifying from the section evaporated with defeats by Russia and Belgium in September. They will finish in that position if they beat Kazakhstan at Hampden Park on Tuesday night, but the outcome in Nicosia was no certainty even after McGinn’s fifth goal in as many games.

The Scots had an inferior share of possession and fewer shots and corners than Cyprus but, crucially, they had more attempts on target and converted half of their opportunities. Clarke made no fewer than six changes from the side who beat San Marino 6-0 and yet again there was defensive reconstruction, with Motherwell’s Gallagher making his debut alongside Scott McKenna, who might have expected to partner his Aberdeen clubmate, Mikey Devlin.

McKenna replaced Stuart Findlay, David Marshall was back in goal at the expense of Jon McLaughlin and Taylor filled the left-back birth vacated by the injured Andrew Robertson. In midfield, Ryan Jack made his debut in place of the injured Scott McTominay, while Steven Naismith took over from Lawrence Shankland to earn his 50th cap, an achievement supplemented by his role as captain for the occasion.

Group I

TeamPPts1Belgium9272Russia9213Scotland9124Cyprus9105Kazakhstan9106San Marino90

Naismith was replaced by Oli McBurnie in the second half after sustaining what appeared to be a leg strain but Clarke said afterwards that the substitution had been underway when the Hearts striker picked up the niggle.

Of the game as a whole, the Scotland manager said: “The win was crucial because it gives us the opportunity to go home against Kazakhstan and get another three points to set us up nicely for the play-offs in March. It was important to build on the San Marino victory.”

Team details

Cyprus: Urko Pardo, Demetriou, Karo, Merkis, Kousoulos, Nicholas Ioannou, Papoulis, Kyriakou, Kosti, Efrem, Sotiriou. 
Subs: Kastanos, Wheeler, Neophytos Michael, Economides, Theodorou, Michalis Ioannou, Spoljaric, Artymatas,  Papageorghiou, Christoforou, Kissas, Avraam. 

Scotland: Marshall, Palmer, Gallagher, McKenna, Taylor, Christie, McGregor, Jack, Forrest, McGinn, Naismith.
Subs: MacGillivray, Shinnie, Fleck, Burke, McBurnie, Porteous, Shankland, Armstrong, Devlin, O’Donnell, Morgan, McLaughlin. 

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