Tue, Nov 18, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Big guns shaken by underdogs on road to Euro 2004


It's getting difficult to distinguish the powerhouses from the also-rans in European soccer.

Going into tomorrow's final five qualifying games for next summer's European championships, underdogs Scotland, Latvia, Wales, Slovenia and Norway are positioned to oust some of Europe's biggest powers.

Scotland could further embarrass the Netherlands in the second leg. The talent-rich Dutch missed out on the 2002 World Cup and must recover in Amsterdam following a 1-0 loss in Glasgow.

Tiny Latvia goes to World Cup semifinalist Turkey nursing a 1-0 victory from Saturday's first leg. It was Latvia's biggest sports moment since the tiny Baltic nation regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Wales, which hasn't reached a major final since 1958, comes home to Cardiff after a 0-0 draw with Russia in Moscow.

A 1998 World Cup semifinalist, Croatia stumbled to a 1-1 draw in Zagreb against neighbor Slovenia. The Slovenes should have the edge in Ljubljana.

Spain won at home, but one of world soccer's biggest underachievers can't be complacent. The narrow 2-1 victory came through a late Norwegian own-goal.

The five survivors over two legs join host Portugal and 10 others that have already advanced: France, Denmark, Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany, Greece, England, Bulgaria, Italy and Switzerland.

Scotland is 90 minutes from reaching the final, and Dutch coach Dick Advocaat is 90 minutes from resigning. He's promised to quit if his side fails to qualify.

James McFadden scored in the 22nd minute -- one of Scotland's few shots.

The Dutch called it luck.

"I know we had around 10 chances and ran up against fate," winger Marc Overmars said. "But at this moment, the mood is pretty bad. We know we only have one game left, and we didn't want to go into it like this."

It was Scotland's biggest victory since a win 14 years ago over France in a World Cup qualifier. Scotland's Sunday Mail called the Dutch "a bunch of individuals with talent but a cadaver as a unit."

Latvia, which has never advanced to a major tournament, is on the verge after the 1-0 win over Turkey in freezing conditions.

Maris Verpakovskis scored in the 29th minute. Turkey's best chance came when Emre Belozoglu hit the post in the 86th after teammate Emre Asik was sent off in the 73rd for two yellow cards.

Latvia coach Alexandrs Starkovs is promising more of the same.

"We will not go to Turkey as tourists. We will go to win as professionals," he said.

Turkey coach Senol Gunes blamed the cold weather.

"Our players had tough conditions with the climate," he said. "That is why we lost, I think."

Wales has the advantage after the 0-0 draw. Russia will be without goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnikov, who was yellow carded and ruled out Wednesday. Alexander Mostovoi will also be suspended.

"We must be very careful we do not get ahead of ourselves now," said Wales coach Mark Hughes, "That is what happened in the qualifying games when we did not beat Serbia and Finland when we expected to."

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