VILNIUS - Lithuania's hopes of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany are looking the best among the Baltic states after it narrowly beat San Marino 1-0 on Nov. 17. The result lifts Lithuania into second place in Group 7, two points behind leaders Serbia and Montenegro but three points ahead of third-placed Spain.
Although Lithuania was without several key players, including star striker Edgaras Jankauskas, it still dominated the game against a plucky San Marino side. Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Deividas Cesnauskis scored the winner after 41 minutes against the Mediterranean minnows, which are yet to record a win in an official international match.
Latvia also won its game against Liechtenstein, another of European football's smaller sides. Second-half goals from Maris Verpakovskis, Mihails Zemlinskis and Andrejs Prohorenkovs secured a 3-1 win against the Liechtenstein team, which last month caused a major shock by holding Portugal to a draw.
The win was a fitting end to a successful year for Latvian soccer, which saw the country participate for the first time in a major international championship. The match was also Latvia's last with coach Aleksanders Starkovs in charge, as he now moves on to take charge of the Russian side Spartak Moscow.
Latvia is now level on points with Estonia in Group 3. The Estonians were also in action on Nov. 17, but faced Russia, considerably tougher opposition than San Marino and Liechtenstein.
Estonia was unable to make a game of it and Russia comfortably won 4-0. The Russians scored three goals within nine minutes in the first half and added a fourth in the second half from a penalty. Jelle Goes' side had its best chance of the game when striker Kristen Viikmae's broke into the area but was stopped by a last-ditch tackle from a Russian defender.
The three Baltic states won't be in action again until March 30. Estonia faces Russia in Tallin, while Latvia should have an easy time against Luxembourg at home. Lithuania goes to Bosnia Herzegovina for a tough away game.
Group 3 standings:
Nr.Team Games Points
2. Slovakia 410
Group 7 standings:
Nr.Team Games Points
6. San Marino40