Aleksandrs Starkovs likened reshuffling his Latvia squad to "building a new house" as he celebrated a 1-0 win against Northern Ireland in Riga.
Starkovs, who made his name by leading Latvia to UEFA EURO 2004™, finally ended their eleven month wait for a second win in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying in his third competitive game since being reappointed following the departure of Jurijs Andrejevs. It took an own goal from Northern Ireland captain Chris Baird to hand Latvia the spoils and Starkovs remained pragmatic. "Building of a team is similar to building a new house," he said. "We are still in the early stages and will need a lot of time. The win is pleasant, but we still have a lot of things to do before we can repeat our past feats."
After winning 4-0 at home against Iceland in their second Group F game on 7 October 2006, Latvia had failed to pick up a single point until last night, hitting a notable low point with a 1-0 defeat in Liechtenstein in Andrejevs' last game in charge. The 56th-minute goal against Northern Ireland came as Baird directed Imants Bleidelis' cross past his own goalkeeper, though striker Maris Verpakovskis insisted that he would have been on hand to finish had the Northern Ireland captain not intervened.
FK Ventspils goalkeeper Andris Vanins, deputising for the injured Aleksandr Kolinko, then came into his own, making some crucial saves to keep Nigel Worthington's side at bay. "I am happy with our win - it was nice to help the team," said the ever-modest Vanins. "Our defenders helped a lot. I hope we will be able to improve the situation from now on and avoid such long winless runs."
Worthington, meanwhile, was furious with the defeat which put a major dent in his side’s hopes of qualifying for next summer’s finals. "There was not enough urgency or passion in our performance,” he said. “That was disappointing and frustrating. We have not produced the goods on the night and let ourselves down. No matter what tactics or personnel you pick, if you do not get the basics right you are not entitled to win."
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