Māris Verpakovskis received official recognition for winning 100 Latvia caps on his 34th birthday yesterday – when he made his 102nd appearance as his country came from two down to draw 2-2 with Slovakia in FIFA World Cup qualifying Group G.
The forward reached his century in September as Latvia lost 1-0 in Greece but had to wait a few weeks to celebrate his achievement back in Riga. Greece holds a special place in the Ergotelis FC player's international career: he made his debut there aged 19, scoring in a 2-1 UEFA EURO 2000 qualifying victory on 9 June 1999, and also claimed his record 25th goal for Latvia on Greek soil in October 2009.
"These times with the national team, these 14 and a half years, will be with me forever," Verpakovskis told UEFA.com. "These are unforgettable experiences and I am happy they are not over yet. So many fantastic games, so many interesting people; the emotions of fans, team-mates ... I will have to retire one day, but I will always be proud to have reached 100 caps for our national team."
Verpakovskis's heyday coincided with Latvia's greatest achievement, reaching the finals of UEFA EURO 2004, with the striker scoring twice in the play-off success against Turkey to take his nation to their only major tournament. He also found the net against the Czech Republic in Portugal – Latvia's solitary goal at the finals.
Verpakovskis – who has plied his trade with clubs in Ukraine, Spain, Croatia and Azerbaijan as well as Latvia and Greece – remains Latvia's all-time leading marksman with 29 goals, but five current and former team-mates have made more international outings:
Igors Stepanovs – 100 games, 4 goals (1995–2011)
Māris Verpakovskis – 102, 29 (1999–present)
Mihails Zemļinskis – 105, 12 (1991–2005)
Imants Bleidelis – 106, 10 (1995–2007)
Juris Laizāns – 111, 15 (1998–present)
Andrejs Rubins – 117, 10 (1998–2011)
Vitālijs Astafjevs – 167, 16 (1992–2010)
*statistics according to Latvian Football Federation (LFF)
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