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Preview: Cyprus vs. Wales

Sports Mole looks ahead to Wales's Euro 2016 qualifier away at the GSP Stadium in Cyprus.

Wales have not played in a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, they head to Cyprus on Thursday evening in the knowledge that a victory would go a long way to booking their place at next summer's European Championships in France.


Cypriot player Giorgos Merkis (C) celebrates scoring a goal during their Euro 2016 Group B qualifying match against Andorra at the GSP Stadium in the capital Nicosia on November 16, 2014© Getty Images

With the greatest of respect to the Cypriots, when the draw was made for the qualification stages, it was expected that they would make up the numbers in Group B.

To their credit, they have got themselves into a position where a place in the playoffs is not beyond the realms of possibility and although it would perhaps require them to win at least three of their remaining four games, automatic qualification is also not completely out of the question.

Pambos Christodoulou's men have collected nine points to date courtesy of back-to-back wins over bottom side Andorra and an away triumph in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In fact, it would probably be accurate to describe Cyprus as the entertainers of Group B. In their six outings, they have found the net on 12 occasions, but have also let in 11 at the other end. In Nestoras Mitidis, Georgios Efrem and Demetris Christofi, they have three of the most clinical players in the group, with only three strikers having scored more goals than the trio.

Speaking to FIFA's official website recently about his country's recent surge, midfielder Vincent Laban said: "We're a small country so we don't have a huge reservoir of players available. It costs us whenever we have a few injuries, and that's hurt us in the past.

"Now we have a new generation coming through and it's going well in terms of combining more experienced players with younger ones. We've already had some interesting results and we can be optimistic."

Even so, ahead of the visit of Wales, the Blues do not have an overly positive home record to fall back on. Prior to beating Andorra last time out, they had gone eight outings without a victory.

Recent form: WLLWLW
Recent form (all competitions): WLLWLW


Chris Coleman the Wales manager waves to the crowd during the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying match between Wales and Belgium at the Cardiff City Stadium on June 12, 2015© Getty Images

Those of a Wales persuasion will know just how close the Dragons are to ending the long drought without an appearance at a major tournament, which in itself will create plenty of tension.

Undefeated up until now, Chris Coleman's charges currently sit top of a group that includes Belgium, who many regard to be among the favourites to lift the trophy in France next July.

Of course, it is almost impossible to ignore the contribution that Real Madrid attacker Gareth Bale has made to the situation that Wales find themselves in. Of the eight goals that the Welsh have scored in their six group matches, five have come courtesy of the world's most expensive footballer.

Yet, speaking to BBC Sport earlier this week, ex-Wales international Craig Bellamy insisted that the 26-year-old is not a one-man team: "He is the best Welsh player I have seen in a Wales shirt for winning games single-handedly like he has at times. But I feel this team is more than that as well. I feel this is the exciting thing about this team - it will get better, this is definitely just the start."

In terms of the trip to Cyprus, Wales will be only too aware how important the three points are, particularly when considering that Belgium and Israel, who are in second and third place respectively, have home encounters are expected to win them.

While all eyes are bound to be on Bale, the encounter at the GSP Stadium will be a landmark one for Wayne Hennessey, who is set to become only the third Welsh goalkeeper after Paul Jones and Neville Southall to earn 50 senior international caps.

Recent form: WDWDWW
Recent form (all competitions): WDWDWW

Team News

Wales' Joe Allen in action against Ireland on August 15, 2013© Getty Images

Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen was due to miss the game because of suspension, but it has worked out that he would have sat out the encounter anyway because of a hamstring injury.

There was more positive news as far as talisman Bale is concerned, though, after the winger confirmed that he had overcome a toe complaint.

Fellow wide player Hal Robson-Kanu sat out a recent training session with a groin complaint, but there have been suggestions that he should recover in time to feature.

As for the home team, they will be without the services of France-born Laban, who is banned.

Cyprus possible starting lineup:
Georgallides; Demetriou, Sielis, Junior, Antoniades; Nikolaou, Economides, Makridis, Christofi, Efrem; Mitidis

Wales possible starting lineup:
Hennessey; Chester, Williams, Gunter; Taylor, Richards; Ledley, Ramsey, King; Robson-Kanu, Bale

Head To Head

When the two nations met in Cardiff last October, David Cotterill and Robson-Kanu were on the scoresheet in a 2-1 victory for the home side.

Prior to that there had been four clashes between the pair, with Wales coming out on top 3-1 overall.

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We say: Cyprus 1-2 Wales

If Bale can produce the sort of form in Cyprus that he did for Madrid at the weekend, Wales will have every chance of collecting a crucial victory in Nicosia. It will be a tough encounter, but Coleman's men may just edge it.

Who will win this Euro 2016 qualifier in Nicosia on Thursday night?

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Wales player David Cotterill (c) celebrates his opening goal with Gareth Bale (l) and Andy King during the EURO 2016 Qualifier match against Cyprus on October 13, 2014
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