|Attempts on target||8||2|
|Attempts off target||15||4|
A UEFA EURO 2004™ sensation looked on the cards for three-quarters of a pulsating Group D opener in Aveiro but ultimately the Czech Republic, one of the fancied outfits to go far in the tournament, escaped from jail with a late two-goal salvo that finally brought splendidly game Latvia to heel.
As the second half wore on, it seemed that the men from the Baltic would earn an unlikely reward for Maris Verpakovskis' shock 45th-minute opener and a fiercely-committed effort. However, Czech power and pressure eventually told in a closing onslaught that finally brought Karel Brückner's side the points.
Liverpool FC striker Milan Baroš brought relief to the Czechs. who were becoming increasingly frantic, with a 73rd-minute leveller from close range and substitute Marek Heinz broke Latvia's courageous hearts with a triumphant volley five minutes from time.
The Czechs will be breathing more easily after a game which they took so long to conquer. They are the latest team to find out that Latvia - surprise qualifiers against Turkey in the play-offs - are a tough proposition to break down.
Aleksandrs Starkovs' team can be justifiably proud of their debut in a major competition final round. They covered diligently, defended tooth and nail, and often threatened on the counter, with their front duo of Verpakovskis and Andrejs Prohorenkovs running intelligently and combining to break the deadlock almost on the half-time whistle.
But as the match wore on, the Czechs drove forward incessantly with a sense of mounting desperation and the end result was the outcome of a sustained onslaught that the Latvians fought manfully to stem before the Baltic dam finally burst open. It was only in the closing half-hour that talismen Pavel Nedved and Karel Poborský - both members of the side which finished runners-up in 1996 - finally found the momentum that makes the Czechs such a vibrant attacking force.
"We saw Latvia on video two days before the game and we knew they would defend," said Baroš. "They defend well and they have a good team. They scored the first goal and at half-time we knew we needed to turn the game around. Fortunately we managed it."
Starkovs was philosophical after the game and praised his gutsy defenders. "Why could we not hold on to the end? The great skill of the Czechs told," he said. "However, we managed to cope with things for a long time. We were a bit nervous before our first game, because we had doubts whether we suited a tournament like this. For the Latvian team, it was a good day and a good game. We gave our fans some joy."
'Satisfied so far'
Brückner was a relieved man, but revealed that he knew the Latvians would be hard nuts to crack. "Latvia are very strong in defence and they are very quick on the counterattack. They proved they are a very good team. Therefore, I am satisfied so far."
In a desperately tough group to call, the Czechs will surely treat this sturdy encounter as a wake-up call. Nedved produced moments of class eventually, Poborský finally found space to his liking on the right flank in the closing stages, and Baroš is a deceptively powerful frontrunner and a handful for any defence alongside towering spearhead Jan Koller.
"Of course we wanted to win before the game," said Nedved. "We won, and that is important for us. If we had drawn or lost, we would have had to win the next two games to qualify, so I am happy that we have the three points. We have two games to play, so we will see what happens." The Czechs might just find more illustrious opposition in Germany and the Netherlands easier to deal with than the Latvian lionhearts.
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