San Marino 0-1 Latvia
San Marino’s hopes of securing their first-ever UEFA European Championship point were thwarted as they conceded a last-minute own goal against Latvia.
Draw on the cards
For the San Marinese it would have been their best result since their 1-1 draw with Latvia in the qualifying campaign for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. That match was only the second time in their history that they had avoided defeat, the first being a 0-0 stalemate against Turkey in another World Cup qualifier in 1993.
The visitors did deserve their win and were close to opening the scoring early on in this UEFA EURO 2004™ Group Four qualifier when Southampton FC striker Marians Pahars let fly a fierce shot from distance that ricocheted off the post. Soon after Maris Verpakouskis should have put away a rebound after a dipping strike from Vitalis Aspafjevs, but somehow contrived to edge wide.
San Marino’s best chance of a goal came in the 53rd minute when it appeared that Damiano Vannucci was brought down down in the penalty area, only for the referee to wave play on, despite the vehement protestations of the home side.
Valentini own goal
But at least the European minnows, who had lost all their previous 28 games in European qualifying matches, looked set to end their barren run after a battling rearguard display, until a goalmouth scramble ended with defender Carlo Valentini deflecting in an own goal.
Latvia coach Aleksandrs Starkovs claimed he was happy with his side's progess. "We are realistic about qualifying but optimistic as we already have more points than expected," he said. "We have to keep going and see how many points we can collect. This game showed that every match is hard."
Latvia will undoubtedly have to work less for their three points when they face San Marino at home at the end of April. Starkovs' side now lie top of the group with seven points from three games ahead of second-placed Hungary, who were tonight held 1-1 by Moldova in an international friendly.