The Cypriot national team goes all the way back to Cyprus becoming an independent country in 1960. The first official match was a friendly at home to Israel on the 13th of November, 1960, a 1-1 draw at the original Stadio GSP, the announced attendance was 11,000.

These days, the Cypriot national team would struggle to get that even against a world-class opponent. Things have gotten so bad, the current Stadio GSP at the southern edge of Nicosia, has gotten way too big for the national team, which hasn’t played there since 2021. Most matches have been played at the 8,000 seat Giorgos Karapatakis AEK Arena in Larnaca, still featuring far too many empty seats. There are multiple reasons for the lack of popularity for the national team, which I’m all too happy to get into.


Let’s start with the most obvious reason. The team isn’t very good, especially now. Cyprus is currently ranked 124th in the FIFA ranking, not much better than 142nd, Cyprus’ all-time low, registered in the June 2014 ranking. Cyprus is well accustomed to getting knocked around by their European brethren. It’s no exaggeration to say many years, Cyprus will only record one win in a given calendar year. Cyprus have never qualified for a World Cup or a Euro. They’ve come relatively close a couple times, had a few historic wins, but most of the time, Cyprus is a chew toy for most other European national teams. Cyprus is a small country, which doesn’t help, and yet it’s hard to use that excuse anymore after seeing Iceland, an even smaller country, qualify for a recent World Cup and Euro, and acquit themselves well on top of that.


Cypriots, both in Cyprus and around the world, are conflicted. The reality is, Cyprus as a young country is still forming an identity. Anyone who’s ever been to Cyprus, even if only once, and even if only briefly will notice one bizarre oddity. There are more Greek flags than Cypriot flags! This confusion spreads to national team football. A lot of Cypriots see Greece as their national   team, preferring to support the Ethniki over the fledgling national team of their own country. I recall an APOEL executive whose identity escapes my memory referring to Greece as “our national team”, and Cyprus as “our government team”. In Greece, people tend to view Cyprus as Greece Jr., and a lot of people in Cyprus agree. I would go so far as to say, if economics weren’t a factor, a lot of Cypriots would still support enosis(Cyprus becoming part of Greece, a union).

This is a problem I know intimately about, although for different reasons. A little about me, I have lived in the United States all my life. My mother’s family is Cypriot, from Mia Milia, a northern suburb of Nicosia, currently in the occupied area. My father’s side is Greek however, from the Arkadia region of Peloponnisos, outside of the city of Tripoli. On the occasions that Cyprus plays against Greece, I feel my heart pulled in two directions, and it’s torture for me every time. This is not however, true for people in Cyprus who choose to identify as Greek, for the most part. Cyprus is the only other Greek-speaking country in the world. The climate is similar, the food is similar, there’s a shared history as Cyprus was part of Greece in ancient times, when Greece was a world power. So, feeling a connection to Greece is certainly understandable, but it shouldn’t be at the exclusion of Cyprus which has now been an independent country for 64 years.

It’s this identity crisis that holds back a lot of potential support for the Cypriot national team. Even Cypriots abroad inadvertently contribute to this. Here in the US, it’s even worse, as most Americans have never even heard of Cyprus. Many Cypriot-Americans just give up and tell people they’re Greek when asked about their heritage. In general, in places with a large diaspora, like the UK, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the US, people often use Greek as a synonym for Cypriot, and very casually and subconsciously, as though it’s just second nature. Cyprus has not even a tenth of the population of Greece, it needs a cheering section(literally and figuratively) every bit as much as Greece, perhaps more.


This is far from a uniquely Cypriot problem, but a lot of Cypriots have their enthusiasm for the national team drained by club factors. Some might be disillusioned with the lack of players from their favorite club being called up to the national team, feeling as though other clubs have been favored in the process. Others might have a problem with having to root for players from rival clubs in national team play, souring the whole experience. Of course, there are also those who just put so much into supporting their favorite club, that they don’t have the energy to support a national team, too, and will either lament each international break as an annoyance, or use it as a chance to mentally recharge from the grind of supporting their club. As I said, this is not a uniquely Cypriot problem, and many countries face similar struggles. It might be more painful than most in this case, however, given again that Cyprus is a small country, and a lot of people in it would prefer to root for their neighbour to the northwest.


The above stated factors all contribute to a lack of fan culture around the Cypriot national team. With low attendance as the norm, and often with little to cheer about from the team on the pitch, not a lot of noise being made, even by the few who show up. The Cypriot national team doesn’t have a nickname. Some will call it the Ethniki(the same one the Greek national team uses), but then again, the same people lazily use the same nickname for the Omonoia-APOEL rivalry as that of Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, or steal the name of Greece’s largest peak for Cyprus’s, while we’re at it. Cyprus famously doesn’t even have a national anthem, using Greece’s when one is needed for national team competitions. Any time a country that does have a large following for its national team, comes to visit Cyprus, a lot of their fans make the trip, making it easy to forget who the home side is, and more often than not, makes for a great holiday. They see their team win, no hostility in the process, and otherwise, a chance to avail themselves to everything Cyprus has to offer.


Fixing these problems would be difficult. It would have to start at a grassroots level. The Cyprus FA needs to put more effort into promoting national team matches, and the team in general. Even in Cyprus, it’s extremely difficult to obtain Cypriot national team merchandise. I personally own two national team kits, one I found in a regular clothing store in Larnaca in 2007, and the other, a 2018 edition a friend brought back from Cyprus, courtesy of a CFA contact. When Ran Ben Shimon was the manager, he travelled all over Cyprus to do just that, and attendance picked up some during his tenure. More needs to be put into improving the team’s performance. More resources need to be put into developing youth players, and finding eligible Cypriot players abroad. Cypriot players that get little playing time at their clubs, and Cypriot league veterans who can’t crack their own national team rosters, tend to make up most of the starting XI these days, and it shows. The split allegiances transcend sports, and fixing that goes far beyond the confines of the Cypriot national team, and fixing that, if it is even possible, will take time.

Cyprus has to form an identity as a country. Maybe a strong national team could help accomplish that.


By Andrew Mantzas