Jamie Mackie ensured Scotland made a positive start to preparations for the World Cup 2014 qualification campaign with a sublime winner on his international return.
The Queens Park Rangers striker – who has only just recovered from a double leg break - was rewarded for his prodigious efforts with the decisive goal in Larnaca as Scotland defeated Cyprus 2-1 in the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium.
He ghosted past two Cypriot defenders and slotted home his second goal for Scotland, after netting in the 3-0 win against the Faroes at Pittodrie. Mackie was a stand-out performer, further endearing himself to the Scotland supporters with his tireless industry and nimble footwork on the left flank. He was a constant thorn in Cyprus’s flesh and despite being denied a series of chances, received his just rewards with a majestic solo goal in the second half.
Kenny Miller broke the home side’s laudable resistance in the 25th minute with an adroit chip over the Cypriot goalkeeper, Antonis Georgallides, and despite Demitris Christofi pulling one back for the hosts, Scotland stood firm.
Cyprus’s stuffy resistance belied their FIFA ranking place of 120 but with Mackie creating mischief and Miller providing a vintage shift in attack, there was much for Craig Levein to be optimistic about on a night when he would have preferred his team to be in the UEFA Euro 2012 play-offs.
None the less, with Mackie and Craig Mackail-Smith enjoying more game time, and Craig Conway and Jordan Rhodes making cameo appearances in the second half, this represented a successful experiment as the national team coach looked to the future.
Scotland persisted with their customary 4-1-4-1 formation, with Barry Robson and the irrepressible Mackie providing primary support to Miller from the flanks. Bedecked in the new adidas home kick, the visitors were keen to fashion an early advantage with the captain dictating
Cyprus, despite home advantage, were content to soak up pressure and break on the counter attack, largely through the former Rangers youngster Giorgios Efrem. While Scotland enjoyed large swathes of possession, it was the hosts who threatened first.
Whittaker was caught out by a looping cross over the defence, enabling Efrem to have his first sight of goal, but his thunderous left-foot shot was palmed on to the crossbar by Allan McGregor. The scare jolted Scotland into life and the ball was threaded to Miller with renewed purpose.
Indeed, within 10 minutes Scotland were rewarded for their increased endeavour. A 60-yard quarterback pass from Christophe Berra was controlled instantly by Miller who, from just inside the box, spotted Georgallides off his line and scooped a sublime over the goalkeeper to the delight of the travelling fans who made up the bulk of a sparse crowd.
Undeterred, Cyprus continued with their strategy and came close to an equaliser when Dobrasinovic’s 30-yard drive smacked off McGregor’s left-hand post. Again, Scotland heeded the warning and foraged upfield. Mackie, scampering effectively on the left side, danced his way past three Cypriot challenges only to be denied by the goalkeeper. Scotland were then denied a legitimate penalty claim when Parpas clearly handled a Berra header inside the box and came within a matter of inches of converting a second before the interval.
Whittaker sped clear down the right and despite Miller and Robson queuing up inside the six-yard box the Cypriots scrambled the ball to safety. The manager resisted the temptation to make any alterations at the interval and the second half followed a similar cat-and-mouse pattern.
Mackie, who had been a perennial pest for the Cypriots, continued to twist and tease and doubled Scotland’s advantage shortly after the restart. He received the ball wide and danced around two defenders before stroking the ball into the left-hand corner of Kissas’s net.
Still there was no denting the Cypriots’ enthusiasm and within minutes of going two goals down, the home side hit back. Christofi darted inside Phil Bardsley and drilled his shot past McGregor to give his team a life line.
Scotland stood firm and finished with a look at the future as Jordan Rhodes came on for his first senior cap, who almost capped his debut with a dream goal near the end.