By Aleksandrs Vasiljevs
After playing at the finals of UEFA EURO 2004™, returning to action in the qualifying round of the UEFA Cup may seem like something of a comedown. However, if FK Ventspils' Latvian international striker Vits Rimkus was feeling underwhelmed at playing Faroese side B68 Toftir, he did not let it show.
The first leg of the tie between the two sides in Toftír saw Rimkus score three times in a 3-0 win to score the first hat-trick of the tournament this season and remind the rest of Europe that, while he might have failed to ignite in a spell at German side 1. FC Nürnberg, he remains a fine marksman.
'Back to reality'
Scoring three times in the Faroe Islands marked the point at which Rimkus finally got back in tune with life at his club after the drama of Portugal. "It wasn't an easy period coming back to reality," he told uefa.com. "Physically I feel very well, but mentally I was exhausted.
"I needed some rest, but there was no time for that," he added. "There were Latvian games and European games. I had to play, and it was only when I scored three goals against B68 in the UEFA Cup that I felt that my reacclimatisation period was over."
Rimkus played only a few minutes of football in Portugal, coming on as a late substitute in his side's 2-1 defeat against the Czech Republic. The 31-year-old was delighted to have made that solitary appearance, but admitted that he had not exactly learned much.
"It's not easy to gain much experience from this," he said. "But such a thing does not pass you by unnoticed, even if you only play a few moments. Many better footballers than me never have this opportunity. I played at the European championship and I consider this a huge honour."
World Cup hopes
However, he was hoping that greater honours lie ahead as Latvia look ahead to the 2006 FIFA World Cup. "I hope the World Cup in Germany will be the pinnacle of my career," he said. "It will much harder than getting to Portugal because now opponents will take us seriously."
Rimkus is hoping that he will be taken seriously too after hitting a rich vein of goalscoring form in domestic football. With nine goals in eleven Latvian league games this season, he has still not entirely lost hope that he could play outside Latvia again.
"It would be interesting and sometimes I really want to play at a different level, but it's a tough question which involves some serious decisions," he said. "Plus I can't say that it's not interesting for me to play for Ventspils. Not at all. Ventspils are a good club which plays good football."
Doubtless, his team will be hoping to remind the world of that fact when they take on B68 in the home leg of their UEFA Cup tie on Thursday. However, in the meantime, uefa.com could not resist the opportunity of asking Rimkus why he, as an ethnic Lithuanian, ever ended up playing for Latvia.
'Nobody asked me'
"There's no contradiction here," he insisted. "
Yes, I am Lithuanian but my parents moved to Riga even before I was born. As for Latvia - there was no choice - nobody asked me to play for Lithuania. But I wouldn't have said yes anyway - I wanted to play for Latvia." As B68 learned to their cost, Ventspils and Latvia's gain remains Lithuania's loss.
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