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Aug 16, 2005

Nikolaou misses World Cup match after air tragedy

NICOSIA, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Cyprus international midfielder Niko Nikolaou will miss his country's World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands on Wednesday after four of his relatives were killed in Sunday's air crash in Greece.

Nikolaou's uncle, aunt and their two daughters have been confirmed among the dead of the Cypriot Helios Airways plane which crashed into mountains near Athens killing all 121 passengers and crew.

The flight left Larnaca and had been headed to Prague via Athens when the accident occurred.

Cypriot football was also in mourning for two other men killed in the disaster.

Andreas Mavris, 44, an assistant referee whose brothers had played for Cypriot first division clubs, also died, as did Theodoros Dounas, 38, a medical officer with Olympiakos Nicosia. He was killed along with his wife and three young children.

Nikolaou, 32, was with the Cypriot national squad in London en route to the Faroes when they received news of the crash.

Officials immediately granted him compassionate leave to be with his family in the village of Zakaki near Limassol and he returned to Cyprus on the next available flight.

Nikolaou was due to captain Anorthosis Famagusta against Rangers in Glasgow in the second leg of their Champions League third qualifying round clash next week, but has not yet decided whether he will play.

'It is a decision we will leave totally up to him,' an Anorthosis official said on Tuesday. Rangers won the first leg 2-1 in Cyprus last week.