|Attempts on target||3||9|
|Attempts off target||1||12|
Latvia wondered before UEFA EURO 2004™ whether they actually had any right to be at the finals. But the unheralded men from the Baltic proved here at the Estádio do Bessa Século XXI that their qualification was no fluke - a wholehearted effort bringing them their first point in a major finals after a goalless stalemate against frustrated Germany.
It took the Czech Republic three-quarters of the game to finally consign them to a narrow defeat earlier in the week - and this time round, the Latvians resisted stoutly until the end to earn an excellent draw. The joy of players and supporters at the final whistle was unconfined. Subjected to a second-half barrage, Latvia kept their heads, fought manfully and ensured that Germany face a nerve-wracking final match against the Czechs if they are to make the quarter-finals.
Rudi Völler's side hammered away ceaselessly at the sturdy Latvian rearguard for virtually the whole of the second 45 minutes. But for all of their huffing and puffing, they were unable to convert the opportunities that came their way. In a tough group to call, this disappointing result for them could ultimately leave the Germans facing an early trip home.
Goalless draws do not have to be dull, lifeless affairs. This game was interestingly poised throughout, with Latvia adopting the same tactics that thwarted the Czechs for so long. They relied on the strength of the redoubtable Igors Stepanovs and Mihails Zemlinskis to keep their defensive shape, and strikers Maris Verpakovskis and Andrejs Prohorenkovs to produce swift, dangerous counters.
Indeed, Verpakovskis will be kicking himself, for it was he who missed the clearest chance of the game just before the interval. Germany were caught square as he burst clear - a goal looked certain, but German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was his team's saviour when he smothered Verpakovskis's shot.
Germany worked tirelessly in their efforts to find a breakthrough. Striker Kevin Kuranyi looks a promising prospect and was the pick of their attack, while Michael Ballack earned himself the Carlsberg Man of the Match award for an industrious display as he strained every sinew to find the final, telling pass that could have broken the Latvians' resistance.
But the Germans ultimately rued missed chances. Several shots were narrowly off-target, and striker Miroslav Klose, who had come on as a substitute in an attempt to pep up Völler's attacking options, was mortified to send a diving header wide when he found himself in space in second-half stoppage time. By that time, it would have been a major injustice had Latvia conceded a goal.
'We are disappointed'
Völler was naturally frustrated along with his players. "We are disappointed, as we had to win this second game," he lamented. "In the second half, we didn't lack commitment. But we were not clever enough. The situation is simple - the last game will be decisive, and we will have to play for a win."
Latvia's coach Aleksandrs Starkovs had every right to feel proud of his charges' gallant point. "I think that was a fair outcome," he mused. "I am very happy as we could earn our first point and achieve this historic result. Our team is growing from match to match."
He added: "Everybody had a great game - such as our captain Vitalis Astafjevs, whose fighting spirit helped his partners. We proved the strength of our team spirit. I also would like to thank our fans for their great support."
Germany now need to regroup and reflect before facing the Czech Republic on Wednesday. In the past, they have regularly shown the steel and mettle to come through key tournament games, and they will still remain optimistic of making the last eight. But they have made life much harder for themselves now. Meanwhile, Latvia, who meet the Netherlands, will rejoice at another sterling performance - this time bringing them deserved reward.
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