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Historic night for Latvia

Published: Sunday 12 October 2003, 0.19CET
Sweden 0-1 Latvia Maris Verpakovskis's goal gives Latvia a play-off place for the first time ever.
Published: Sunday 12 October 2003, 0.19CET

Historic night for Latvia

Sweden 0-1 Latvia Maris Verpakovskis's goal gives Latvia a play-off place for the first time ever.

Latvia will be in Monday's UEFA EURO 2004™ play-off draw after defeating Group 4 winners Sweden 1-0 at the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm.

Late drama
Latvia held on despite finishing the match with ten men after the 72nd-minute dismissal of Dzintars Zirnis and survived a late scare. Marcus Allbäck was brought down inside the penalty area three minutes from time but the Swedish striker's spot-kick was high over the crossbar and the away team held on to take runners-up spot in the section.

Essential three points
The visitors started the game holding a two-point advantage in second place but knowing that victory was essential to ensure they would hold off Hungary and Poland and secure a play-off place for what could yet be their first finals appearance.

Unbeaten run
However, they faced a tough task against a Sweden team unbeaten in 25 matches stretching back to 1997, and the home side duly began the brighter, enjoying the majority of the possession but without being able to take advantage of the chances they created.

Effective combination
At the other end, the pace of Maris Verpakovskis and Vits Rimkus caused problems for the home defence, and it was a combination by the two strikers that led to the only goal in the 22nd minute. Verpakovskis dribbled through a static Swedish defence and exchanged passes with Rimkus before beating Andreas Isaksson.

Rimkus miss
Sweden struggled to break down some dogged resistance from the Latvian side, but the introduction of Teddy Lucic for Mikael Dorsin at half-time gave the hosts a more attacking outlook. Latvia continued to look the more likely scorers, however, with Rimkus running on to a Verpakovskis pass which he could not convert.

Stout defending
The visitors were left hanging on after Zirnis was shown the red card for pulling down Allbäck just outside the penalty area and the home team increasingly threw men forward in search of an equaliser, but Allbäck wasted their best chance and Latvia were able to celebrate a famous win.

'Top class'
"I'd like to praise all the players, especially the excellent Maris Verpakovskis and [goalkeeper] Aleksandrs Kolinko and the defence, who were top class," said Latvia coach Aleksandrs Starkovs.

Last updated: 30/03/04 17.46CET