Wednesday 19 December 2018

Demetriou lets his feet do talking

London-born Jason hoping for competitive bow with Cyprus against Ireland on Saturday

WHEN Angelos Anastasiadis sits down and speaks to his players in the national squad of Cyprus this week, it really is all Greek to one of the players.

Jason Demetriou is a Londoner, born and bred. He learned his trade in football as a kid with the academies of Arsenal and Tottenham, and now he's playing first team football with League One side Leyton Orient.

But he's also an international footballer, hoping to win his fourth international cap, and his first in a competitive game, against Ireland on Saturday night.

As a newcomer to the international scene, 21-year-old Demetriou is still getting to grips with all it entails, not just the leap in standard -- last weekend, just over 3,000 punters watched him play for Orient against Carlisle United, while on Saturday his Cyprus team will face an Irish team packed with Premier League regulars.


And he's still getting used to the habits of Anastasiadis, the eccentric but successful Greek-born coach of the Cypriot national team. Giovanni Trapattoni has famously sprinkled some holy water on the pitch before big games to plead for divine intervention but Anastasiadis takes things even further.

"It's a very different style of management from what you are used to in England, but what the manager does with Cyprus, it's very effective," Demetriou told the Herald.

"Religion is a big thing for our manager. He gives the players prayer books, he gets us to drink holy water and has us blessed with it, he gets a priest to come in sometimes and say prayers. It's a bit odd and as I don't speak the language it's hard to understand, I have to get someone to translate, but I still can get the message.

"He basically says that with our talent, with his work and with some help from God, we can beat anyone. It is unusual and you couldn't imagine someone doing it in a dressing room in England before a League One game at Yeovil, but it works for us.

"I don't really speak Greek. Luckily a few of the players have very good English and they help me out a lot. They're not lazy like me in that they leaned another language, I must try to pick up some Greek some day. But I am very proud to play for Cyprus and I hope that the next week, and Saturday's game with Ireland in particular, will be a great time for us because we are really confident of doing something," added Demetriou, who qualifies for Cyprus as his parents are from there.

"I was first called up by Cyprus for an U21 game a few years ago and at the time I wasn't sure what to do. I spoke to the club and my family and I decided to wait for a few months before making a final decision but then I got the chance to come into the senior squad, I went and played in the game against Serbia," he says.

"Being honest, I never really followed the national team of Cyprus as a kid, even though my family are Cypriots. I always wanted to play for England as I was born and brought up here in England, but when the chance came to play for the Cypriot team I couldn't say no, and my family were all very proud when that happened."

"It's been a good experience for me so far, playing for Cyprus. I made my debut against Serbia and then I played in friendlies against Slovakia and Canada. I have three caps now but I want to play in a competitive game and I want to start."

Demetriou began his football career proper at Arsenal, where he was enrolled on their academy between the ages of 11 and 15, where he first came into contact with the Gunners' academy chief, Liam Brady. Then he had a spell with Tottenham, alongside a young Jamie O'Hara, but was allowed leave and he found his way across London to Orient, making his debut four years ago.

"It was good to work under Liam for a while at Arsenal and it will be good to see him again in Cyprus this week, but hopefully I can cause him and Ireland a few problems, I certainly won't be holding back.

"And I have been having a bit of banter at the club since I was named in the squad for this game. We have two Irish boys at Orient, Sean Thornton and JJ Melligan, and they have been giving me a bit of stick, telling me not to bother coming back to the club if I score against Ireland, stuff like that," he jokes.

But there is no joking in the home camp in Cyprus this week as Anastasiadis and his men prepare for the big game. They feel slighted by the fuss over Ireland's 5-2 defeat there in 2006, is painted as an Ireland disaster, instead of a triumph for Cyprus, and the bad news for Giovanni Trapattoni and his men is that they have another upset planned.

"I know that the 5-2 game from the last time is a big factor for Ireland, but for us as well. I have spoken to the players in the squad about that game and they still remember it. They said that Cyprus were the better team that night and deserved to win the game. I think Cyprus tore Ireland apart that night and we'd loved to do it again this weekend," he says.

"We have two big games ahead of us in the next week, Ireland on Saturday and then Montenegro away on Wednesday. If we can win both those games we'd be only two points behind Ireland and that would give us a chance to push them really hard for second place in the group.


"There is a real sense of confidence in the team, this Cyprus team doesn't fear anyone. And I think we can still qualify for the finals, or at least make a real effort to do that. We're looking for three points against Ireland and if we can do that, we have a great chance, there would be real pressure on Ireland and Bulgaria for the second place in the group.

"We have all been given a boost in confidence with APOEL qualifying for the Champions League group stages. I think we have eight players from that club in the national team squad, they have already shown they are good players by getting to the group stage and now they will come in for duty with the national team high on confidence."

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