Latvia arrived in Budapest on a high with ten points from their first four UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 4 games - but after this 3-1 loss they left with the rest of the section breathing down their necks.
Hungary battle back
Aleksanders Starkovs' team had not even conceded a goal in their campaign before tonight and on 38 minutes they looked like extending their good run when Maris Verpakovskis gave them the lead. However, Hungary battled back and two second-half goals from Szabics and a further strike from Zoltán Gera saw the Magyars win comfortably despite the sending-off of Tamás Juhár in the 62nd minute.
Latvia sit back
Hungary started the brighter and enjoyed the lion's share of possession as Latvia sat back and let the hosts do the attacking. Imre Gellei’s side, however, were unable to create any worthwhile chances and only threatened briefly through Krisztián Kenesei before Latvia broke the deadlock.
Vitalis Astafjevs found some space in the Hungarian penalty area and his well-weighted cross found Verpakovskis unmarked in front of goal. The FC Skonto attacker had no problem tucking the ball into the net to give Latvia the lead. Hungary responded by increasing the pressure on the visitors but Starkovs' organised side dealt with everything the Hungarians threw at them in the first half.
Hungary did not give up, however, and their relentless pressure finally paid off six minutes after the break when Zsolt Löw muscled past Aleksandrs Isakovs and supplied a perfect cross, which the unmarked Szabics headed in. The home side were full of confidence now and it did not take long before they took the lead. Again it was Szabics who eluded the Latvian defenders to fire Krisztián Lisztes' cross into the net.
Everything seemed to be going right for Hungary at this point, but only a minute after taking the lead they found themselves a man down when Juhár was sent off. Latvia poured forward in search of an equaliser but their increasingly desperate efforts left Hungary's strikers with more and more space up front. And with four minutes remaining, substitute Zoltán Gera headed home Hungary's third from Csaba Fehér's free-kick to end the game as a contest.
Hungary coach Gellei admitted his side had struggled to make any space against Latvia's defence in the first half: "In the first 15 minutes of the second half we managed to change the game around and, even with ten men for the last 30 minutes, we showed we could still attack and score." Latvia coach Starkovs' assessment was simple. "We couldn't cope with Hungary's pace after the break," he said.
The victory was crucial for Hungary, who are now only two points behind Latvia and level with Sweden, who beat San Marino 6-0 today. The Hungarians' next game is against San Marino on Wednesday. Latvia, meanwhile, do not play again until September when they take on Poland.
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