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FK Ventspils' Portuguese forward João Martins told uefa.com it had been "very special to play in my country against the club I love" after his side had secured a 1-1 draw against Sporting Clube de Portugal that keeps them right in the mix in UEFA Europa League Group D.
Sporting head the section on ten points but only one point separates SC Heerenveen and Hertha BSC Berlin, in joint-second, with fourth-placed Ventspils. After three successive wins, Sporting would have qualified had they won, but they were stunned when Alessandro Zamperini headed the opener on 15 minutes before striker Carlos Saleiro drew Sporting level seven minutes later with his first goal for the capital club.
The 27-year-old Martins, who came off the bench five minutes into the second half to face the club where he started his career aged 12, told uefa.com: "It was very special, motivating and important for me to play in my country against the club I love. The result was positive for us because we still have a chance to go through. Sporting played better than us and it's true we were a little bit lucky, but that's football. I hope they have more luck now and go through to the next phase."
Ventspils have scored in all five of their away games in Europe this season, a fact Martins believes shows they should not be taken lightly. "It's always important to score away goals," he said. "Even if the opponent is theoretically stronger we want to show we know how to play good football and surprise the big teams." Italian defender Zamperini added: "We were brave. We played a good match against a team that is technically stronger than us. We were well organised, especially in defence. We are happy with the result. We will go for broke against Hertha [in our next match] and hope Heerenveen don't win here so we can give everything to qualify in our final game."
Sporting may be the runaway leaders of Group D, but things have not been going their way in the Liga, where they sit 12 points off the pace in seventh following a run of four straight games without victory. The draw against Ventspils extended Sporting's troubled sequence. "The draw was not enough to go through," Saleiro said. "We did everything to finish the match with the three points and qualification. We have to go to war and fight this crisis." Sporting captain João Moutinho, who scored a sensational winner against Ventspils in Riga a fortnight ago, said Sporting could "only change things with victories". He added: "Unfortunately we didn't manage that today and the fans were unhappy just as we are. It was important to win. We should have reacted better given all that's going on. We didn't play badly in the first half but we all have to give more. Together we will turn this around."
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