Football: Cyprus seek another surprise

THEIR UNEXPECTED victory over Spain last month has lifted Cypriot expectations for today's home European Championship game against Austria.

But their coach, Panikos Georgiou, is trying to calm the euphoria both in his players and expectant fans before the Group Six match in Larnaca.

"Yes, I think we can defeat Austria," he said. "But I don't want my players to feel they will be executed if they fail to do so."

High hopes of a Cypriot win have prompted a 10,000 sell-out at the Antonis Papadopoulos stadium. Also watching will be the Austrian Defence minister, Werner Fasslabend. He arrived on the island yesterday to visit Austrian troops deployed in the UN peacekeeping force.

Austria and Cyprus have met four times in the past 30 years, each time the Cypriots suffering heavy defeats but the mix of civil servants, bankers, an unemployed electrician and a handful of professionals are full of optimism after startling the football world when they beat Spain 3-2 last month.

An injury will keep Costas Malekkos, the tricky Omonia Nicosia forward, out of the team and Georgiou accepts it could be a handicap. "This is not good, but I trust my players. If we keep our heads on our shoulders I believe we can score another win. We know that Austria are a very good team," he said.

Austria arrived on Thursday at full strength and immediately walked into a heatwave. Compared to chilly Vienna, temperatures are stuck at over 30C and the locals hope the conditions may work to the advantage of the Cypriots, used to sweating it out in blistering heat.

Austria are in no mood to surrender, having been held to a 1-1 home draw by a 10-man Israel team in their opening game following a disappointing World Cup.

"The team has come to win, not to draw," their coach, Herbert Prohaska, said.

The Borussia Dortmund defender Wolfgang Feiersinger arrived with the team but is battling to overcome a groin injury.