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Football

Latvia's Verpakovskis stuns Turkey

Imants Bleidelis (left), Emre Belozoglu
Latvia's Bleidelis hassles Turkey's Emre Belozoglu.

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EURO 2004 PLAYOFFS
• Second legs on Wednesday 
EURO 2004 QUALIFIERS
Portugal (hosts), France, Denmark, Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany, Greece, England, Bulgaria, Italy, Switzerland.

RIGA, Latvia -- Maris Verpakovskis' solo goal earned Latvia a shock 1-0 win over World Cup semifinalists Turkey in the first leg of their Euro 2004 playoff.

The Skonto striker, who also scored vital qualifying goals against Hungary and Sweden, brought down a long ball, beat Turkish defender Emre Asik and chipped keeper Rustu Recber for the only goal of the game on 29 minutes.

Turkish misery on a freezing night on the Baltic was completed when Asik was sent off in the second half for throwing an elbow at Vits Rimkus.

"Today our players had tough conditions with the climate. That is why we lost I think," said Turkish coach Senol Gunes.

Asik will miss the second leg on Wednesday, as will keeper Rustu and midfielder Fatih Aykel after they picked up their second yellow cards of the competition.

Meanwhile Latvia will travel to Istanbul with high hopes of qualifying for their first ever major tournament.

"We will not go to Turkey as tourists," said coach Alexandrs Starkovs. "We will go to win as professionals."

Verpakovskis was a constant danger for the home side, forming the main target for a stream of crosses which kept Turkey's defense under pressure.

Turkey's best chances fell to Inter Milan midfielder Emre Belozoglu, who tested Latvian keeper Alexandrs Kolinko just before halftime with a powerful shot and then hit the post with a header in the dying minutes.

Akyel also went close with a deflected shot on 69 minutes, but Kolinko handled it expertly.

A minute of silence was held before the match to honor the victims of bombings at two synagogues in Istanbul earlier on Saturday that killed 20 people, with the Turkish players also wearing black armbands.

The match was the biggest sporting event in Latvia since the Baltic nation gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Latvia finished ahead of Hungary and Poland in their group to earn a playoff berth.


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