Latvia went three points clear of Poland at the top of UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 4 on Wednesday with a comprehensive 3-0 victory against San Marino at the Skonto stadium.
Latvia had only managed a 1-0 win last November away against the Sanmarinese - who have failed to win any of their 29 UEFA European Championship qualifying matches to date - but they made considerably lighter work of Giampaolo Mazza's side on home territory, securing victory thanks to two goals from Imants Bleidelis and another from Andrejs Prohorenkovs.
San Marino, though, enjoyed the brighter start in Riga's afternoon sun and the visitors crafted two early chances; Federico Valentini's swerving shot from just outside the box landed on the roof of the Latvian net before striker Andy Selva broke clear down the right only for his shot to sail over the bar.
Latvia soaked up the pressure and took the lead in the ninth minute. Andrejs Rubins fed Prohorenkovs and the striker's lob left goalkeeper Federico Gasperoni with no chance. Ten minutes later, Jurijs Laizans picked out Bleidelis with a lofted crossfield ball, the midfield player exchanging passes with Prohorenkovs before slotting in his side's second at the far post.
Any threat from the visitors stemmed from the busy Andy Selva. He forced a decent save from Latvia goalkeeper Aleksandrs Kolinko in the 32nd minute and was brought down on the edge of the box on the cusp of half-time after carving an opening through midfield. The free-kick came to nothing.
The second half was a more muted affair as Latvia decided against rushing forward in search of more goals however much the contented fans drove them on and the band played. Coach Aleksandrs Starkovs had clearly told his charges to patrol their lines and hold firm at the interval.
Power and placement
Although Latvia were defensive, any more goals seemed certain to be theirs, and so it proved. Bleidelis collected an angled crossfield ball from Rubins on the right of the box after 74 minutes and blended power and placement to irresistible effect to seal a comfortable victory.
Latvia will need to work harder for their three points next time out against Hungary on 7 June, while San Marino will take their search for a maiden European qualifying triumph to Sweden the same day.