Maris Verpakovskis scored twice to earn Latvia a victory against Hungary which gives them a real hope of a UEFA EURO 2004™ play-off place.
This was a huge win for the Latvians after Saturday's disappointing home defeat by Poland. And the three points see them leapfrog the Poles and Hungary into second place in Group 4, four points behind leaders Sweden, who booked their passage to Portugal with a win in Poland today.
Latvia next travel to Sweden on 11 October for their final fixture of the group, but for the moment they will just enjoy Wednesday night's victory against the Hungarians. But it could all have been so different if Hungary had capitalised on their bright start as the inspirational Imre Szabics twice came close to giving the away side the lead.
They were punished in the 38th minute as Verpakovskis set off on a mesmerising run that saw him power past three defenders and apply a slick finish to put Latvia ahead.
Hungary in shock
And Latvia struck again four minutes later with the Hungarians clearly shocked by the home side's first goal, Imants Bleidelis heading home from Andrejs Rubins' corner. To make matter worse for the visitors, Verpakovskis then made it 3-0 following fine work by Astafjevs and Vits Rimkus.
Hungary efforts pay off
The game was all but over as a contest by this stage, but Hungary proved that they are a proud side by soldiering on. And their efforts were rewarded in the 53rd minute when Szabics won possession and fed Krisztián Lisztes, who beat Kolinko from close range.
There was still plenty of time for both sides to create numerous chances with Bleidelis forcing a magnificent save from Gábor Kiraly in the pick of them. Latvia, though, had done enough.
Latvia coach Aleksandrs Starkovs was naturally very pleased with his side's performance. He said: "
We produced a great win over a great team and I'm very proud of our national side, our fans and our country. I also want to thank the crowd here today as they inspired us, especially in the beginning of the second half when Hungary dominated play."
His counterpart, Imre Gellei, whose side must gain three points against Poland to have any hope of progess, said: "I congratulate the Latvian team but I think it is a pity that they were allowed to score from counterattacks as we had talked about that before the game. I also thought that they would be a lot more tired, but full credit to them."