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Laizans levels late for Latvia

Wednesday, 13 October 2004

By Aleksandrs Vasiljevs at the Skonto stadium

[1] Jurijs Laizans struck ten minutes from time to earn Latvia a draw in the Baltic derby as Estonia were forced to settle for a point in a dramatic FIFA World Cup Group 3 qualifier.

Goal spree

[2] All the goals came in a frantic 16-minute spell in the second half. Vitalis Astafjevs put Latvia in front on 64 minutes only for Estonia to hit back with two goals in four minutes from Andres Oper and Ingemar Teever. Laizans then drew Latvia level to ensure that coach Aleksandrs Starkovs' last competitive home match in charge did not end in defeat.

Latvia drive

[3] Starkovs, who was named coach of FC Spartak Moskva last month, had seen his side crash 4-1 to group leaders Slovakia on Saturday, but they showed more drive here and might have gone ahead shortly before the interval when Andrejs Prohorenkovs picked out Imants Bleidelis only for the midfield player to miss from eight metres.

Poom saves

[4] In an open match both sides created plenty of chances, and on 53 minutes Latvia goalkeeper Aleksandrs Kolinko pushed Oper's overhead kick behind. Moments later, Bleidelis crossed from the right for Prokhorenkovs whose volley was saved by Mart Poom. But the Estonian goalkeeper was beaten shortly afterwards: Latvia broke down the right and the ball was worked to captain Astafjevs, who shot powerfully beyond Poom from 30 metres.

Estonia hit back

[5] Latvia's lead, however, was short-lived. On 72 minutes Sergei Terehhov beat Mihails Zemlinskis, playing in his 100th international, and sent in a deep cross for Oper to knock in the equaliser. And four minutes later, Estonia went ahead, Kristen Viikmäe skipping past Valentins Lobanovs on the right before crossing perfectly for Teever to head in.

Laizans equaliser

[6] A superb solo effort from Laizans then salvaged a point for Latvia. The midfield player received the ball on the right and cut inside, beating two defenders before shooting low into the bottom corner. Neither team were able to capitalise in a cagey final ten minutes and the subdued atmosphere at the end indicated that both considered this two points dropped.

Group situation

[7] Estonia have seven points and Latvia four from as many games, but with Russia, Slovakia and Portugal also contesting the sole automatic qualifying place, progress from Group 3 now looks a tall order. Estonia are away to Russia next month while Latvia travel to Liechtenstein.

Valentins Lobanovs of Latvia with Estonia's Kristen Viikmäe