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Slovakia keep on course

Saturday, 9 October 2004

By Aleksandrs Vasiljevs

[1] Slovakia stay top of Group 3 after a stunning second-half fightback secured victory over Latvia in Bratislava.

Slovakian turnaround

[2] The visiting UEFA EURO 2004™ finalists had led at the break through Maris Verpakovskis's third-minute strike. But after the interval goals from Szilárd Nemeth, Luboš Reiter and two from Miroslav Karhan saw the hosts seal a comprehensive win.

Galis optimistic

[3] Slovakia went into the game with victories over Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, and a creditable draw in Russia under their belts. However, coach Dusan Galis had approached the contest in a cautious, if optimistic, mood, naming a squad with only one change from the one that faced Liechtenstein last month.

Visitors decimated

[4] Latvia, meanwhile, were missing several key players. Influential defender Mihails Zemlinskis and forward Andrejs Prohorenkovs were suspended, while defenders Olegs Blagonadezdins, Igors Stepanovs and and Arturs Zakresevskis, as well as midfielder Andrejs Rubins, were all injured.

Shock opener

[5] Yet surprisingly, Latvia opened the scoring on just three minutes, Verpakovskis claiming his 15th international goal, volleying home after Valentins Lobanovs had flicked on Jurijs Laizans's corner.

Kolinko on form

[6] The early goal helped settle the guests' nerves, but soon Galis's side started to press forward in search of the equaliser. Latvian keeper Aleksandrs Kolinko had other ideas, however, saving brilliantly from Rastislav Michalík and Nemeth, while last months hat-trick hero, Robert Vittek, headed against the bar as the hosts heaped on the pressure.

Latvia collapse

[7] Latvia's resistance was finally broken in spectacular style within ten minutes of the restart. First substitute Reiter's 20-metre shot was deflected, falling for Nemeth to turn it into the empty net on 47 minutes. Then three minutes later Michalík crossed from the flank for Reiter to put the home side ahead. And on 55 minutes Karhan followed-up Kolinko's parry to score at the second attempt.

Rout completed

[8] Latvia were reeling, and though they refused to give up the fight for a point, Slovakia continued to carve out openings, with Michalík hitting the bar on 62 minutes. And Karhan finally completed the scoring on 87 minutes, driving home from distance past an unsighted Kolinko.

Estonia await

[9] Latvia now face their Baltic neighbours Estonia in Riga on Wednesday, while Slovakia have a long wait until their next game, also against Estonia, in Tallinn in March.

Slovakia's Michal Hanek with Latvia's Vits Rimkus