Cyprus and Turkey temporarily put aside their decades-long conflict on Thursday to focus on soccer as Fenerbahce clinched a 1-0 win over AEL Limassol in the Europa League.
Hundreds of police were on alert in the ethnically split capital of Cyprus after the sides had been drawn together in Group C.
Fenerbahce’s Egemen Korkmaz scored with a header in the 72nd minute for the Turkish side after repeated assaults by Cypriot champion AEL had been repulsed by goalkeeper Volkan Demirel.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Regular contact between Greek and Turkish Cypriots is limited and fixtures between teams from Cyprus and Turkey, which do not have diplomatic relations, are even more rare.
“I am glad that so far politics has stayed out of the game… Sport is sport and politics has no role in it,» said Greek Cypriot spectator Fanos Pierides, 63.
Just over 1,000 Turkish Cypriot Fenerbahce fans crossed a United Nations-patrolled «green line» for the game to the Greek Cypriot south.
Strictly segregated from the 7,000 Greek Cypriot AEL fans, Turkish Cypriots arrived by bus escorted by police, who took over security of the 24,000 capacity GSP stadium at midday on Thursday.
Strict security was in place for the game. Spectators had to pass through metal detectors, rare in Cypriot stadiums where as recently as Sunday a local fixture was held up when fans threw a firecracker at an injured player on the pitch.
“They told us beforehand there would be a lot of security but this is a little over the top,» said AEL supporter Marinos Constantinou, 32.
Mindful of ethnic sensitivities, political slogans and respective national flags were banned. AEL stewards forced a small number of fans to lower Greek flags, even though a Turkish Cypriot flag was raised by a spectator when Fenerbahce scored.
But in the end, it was soccer that won the day. «Football is peace and friendship,» read one banner held by Fenerbahce spectators.