Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Latvia knocks out Turkey

EURO 2004 The Baltic team hit back from 2-0 down in Istanbul to gain a 2-2 tie and, together with its 1-0 victory from the home leg in Riga, moves to the finals


Turkey Emre Belozoglu, left, battles against Imants Bleidis of Latvia at Besiktas Inonu Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey, Wednesday, during their Euro 2004 second-leg match. The match ended in a draw, qualifying Latvia for the finals.


Latvia produced the shock of the Euro 2004 playoffs on Wednesday by ousting World Cup semifinalist Turkey.

The Baltic team hit back from 2-0 down in Istanbul to gain a 2-2 tie and, together with its 1-0 victory from the home leg in Riga, advanced to its first major soccer championship.

"It was a historic win," said Latvia's coach Alexandrs Starkovs. "I can't answer you on how we will do in Portugal. It's too early."

While Latvians took the streets of Riga in celebration of reaching the finals, the Netherlands and Spain burst through the side door with convincing victories in other playoffs of group runners up.

Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy scored three as the Dutch overturned Scotland's 1-0 first leg lead with a 6-0 hammering in Amsterdam.

And Real Madrid's Raul Gonzalez led the Spaniards to a 3-0 victory over Norway in Oslo which meant a 5-1 triumph overall.

If only they could have played like that in the group stages.

Russia gained a 1-0 victory in Cardiff to lengthen Wales' 45-year wait for an appearance in a major championship while 10-man Croatia also made it to Portugal by winning 1-0 at neighbor Slovenia.

The five survivors from the runners up playoffs join host Portugal and the 10 group winners -- defending champion France, World Cup runner up Germany, Italy, England, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Greece, Denmark, Bulgaria and Sweden -- in the June 12-July 4 finals.

The draw is in Lisbon Nov. 30.

The Turks know they should have been there too.

The World Cup semifinalist needed just 20 minutes to wipe out Latvia's 1-0 first leg advantage when Ilhan Mansiz hit the target in the 20th minute. When veteran striker Hakan Sukur made it 2-0 on the night in the 64th minute it looked as if the Turks were going to the finals.

But Latvia, runner up to Sweden in Group 4, hit back with goals by Juris Laizans (66th minute) and Maris Verpakovskis (77th) for a tie which stunned the Turks in front of their own fans. It is the first time the Baltic state, once part of the Soviet Union, has qualified for a major championship.

Croatia 1, Slovenia 0

Croatia gained a 1-0 victory at Slovenia to advance to the finals 2-1 on aggregate, having been held 1-1 at home in the first leg.

Two minutes after Juventus defender Igor Tudor had been ejected for a second yellow card in Ljubljana, 10-man Croatia went ahead through AS Monaco's Dado Prso.

The victory meant it gained its second appearance in the finals and maintained an unbeaten record in eight matches against its neighbor.

"We gave it our best, fighting to the end as much as we could," said Prso, who also scored the Croatian goal in the first leg. "I said earlier that the best team would come out on top after two games and we did."

Croatia, which finished runner up to Bulgaria in Group 8, reached the quarterfinal at Euro '96 in England and then went on to finish third at the 1998 World Cup in France. Each time the Croats lost to the team that won the title -- Germany and France.

Russia 1, Wales 0

Vadim Evseev headed Russia into the European Championship in a 1-0 playoff victory over Wales on Wednesday.

The defender netted in the 22nd minute before a 73,062 fans at the Millennium stadium and it proved the only goal over 180 minutes, the two teams having tied 0-0 in Moscow on Saturday.

Russia coach Georgy Yartsev said his side deserved to win over the two legs.

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