RIGA - Latvia almost caused a major shock on its European Championship debut by beating the Czech Republic, which is regarded as one of the favorites to win the tournament.
But the formidable talent of the Czech players eventually proved too much for the Latvians, who will nevertheless have surprised many with the quality of their performance.
Although the game was played in the searing midsummer Portuguese heat, it didn't seem to bother either set of players in a thrilling, high tempo game. There wasn't much between the two teams in the first half, with both teams coming close to scoring several times.
The awesome Pavel Nedved was a constant threat for the Czechs and he almost scored in the ninth minute, but Igors Stepanovs blocked the shot on the goal line.
Andrejs Prohorenkovs was in fine form for Latvia and his speed on the counter attack caused a lot of problems for the Czechs. In the 14th minute he whipped in a low cross after a surging run but Maris Verpakovskis' outstretched boot couldn't quite latch onto it.
Latvia grew in confidence as the game progressed and late in the half Stepanovs even tried an outrageous chip from the halfway line but his shot went harmlessly over the goal. But Latvia's doggedness paid off on the stroke of half time when it scored on the counter attack.
Stepanovs played a superb ball to Prohorenkovs who sped down the left and his perfect, curling cross only needed the gentlest of touches from Verpakovskis.
The Czechs came out in the second half determined to turn the game around and their superiority quickly started to tell. The extremely impressive Karol Poborsky started to terrorize the Latvian defense with his runs down the right and he almost scored in the 56th minute with a viciously struck half volley.
It still seemed that Latvia might hold on to its slender lead for a famous win, but then Poborsky set up an equalizer with some wonderful skill on the touchline. His cross was weakly cleared by the Latvian keeper Aleksandrs Kolinko and fell into the path of Baros who hammered the ball home. Television replays showed that Poborsky had been a fraction out of play before he crossed the ball in for the goal, but neither the referee nor the linesmen spotted it.
The Czechs scented victory and they laid siege to the Latvian goal. The winner came in the 84th minute when Kolinko beat Baros to a ball in the box but failed to clear it. The ball then fell to defender Zemlinskis whose half-clearance was met with an unstoppable volley from Heinz.
In all, it was a decent performance from the Latvians, with especially impressive performances by Stepanovs, Prohorenkovs and Verpakovsiks. There's still a chance they can qualify for the next round, and they'll certainly go into their next game against Germany full of confidence.