John Walton/EMPICS Sport

15 days to Euro 2012: First-timers Latvia upset the Germans

The Baltic nation were expected to roll over for Rudi Voller’s side. That didn’t happen.

LATVIA, A COUNTRY whose most famous player is ex-Southampton stiker Marian Pahars, had never qualified for a major tournament when they claimed second behind Sweden against the odds to earn a Euro 2004 play-off place.

When Aleksandrs Starkovs’ side were pitted against Turkey, who had come third in the 2002 World Cup, for the two-legged affair not many people gave them a hope in hell.

They nicked a 1-0 win in Riga thanks to a Maris Verpakovskis goal and in the notoriously hostile atmosphere of Besiktas’ Inonu Stadium, ground out a 2-2 draw to book an unlikely place at the finals in Austria and Switzerland.

Latvian Football Federation President Guntis Indriksons said at the time:

This is the greatest achievement in Latvian football history.”

Their reward? A spot alongside heavyweights Germany, Holland and the Czech Republic.

After narrowly losing out to the Czechs in their opening game, the Baltic nation, whose population is just over 2 million, witnessed their national side earn what remains its only point at a European Championships by holding the three-time winners Germany to a nil-all through a combination of discipline and resilience.

They even could have been a goal or two up but for referee Mike Riley turning down two good shouts for a penalty from Maris Verpakovski’s while Miroslav Klose missed a sitter in injury time.

Being on the wrong end of a 3-0 in the last group game against the Dutch, they departed Portugal safe in the knowledge that they had made history and contributed to a major upset, as the two points dropped saw Germany also eliminated after finishing third.

The Latvian players celebrate the historic result with their fans. Credit: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport

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