RIGA - Latvia's chances of qualifying for next year's World Cup in Germany look increasingly slim following its 0-2 defeat to rival Russia on June 4, the first full-international match between the two sides since independence.
The result could have been different had Maris Verpakovskis not squandered two golden opportunities for the visitors with the score still at 0-0. But goals by Andrei Arshavin and Dmitri Loskov during the second half gave new Russian coach, Yury Syomin, his first win managing the team.
The game kicked off in front of a boisterous crowd of 21,500 in St.Petersburg's Petrovski Stadium. It was an edgy affair during much of the first half, with the Latvian team restricting the Russians to mainly long-range efforts on goal. The best chance fell to Russia's Eugeni Aldonin, but he could only tamely head wide after finding himself unmarked eight yards out.
The second half started brightly, and it was Latvia that came closest to scoring first. A deep cross in minute 51 from the right-wing by the hard-working Prohorenkovs found Verpakovskis unmarked at the back post, but his header bounced agonizingly across the face of the six-yard box.
Latvia temporarily over ran Russia in midfield, and within two minutes, Maris Verpakovskis was released into the penalty area in a one-on-one situation against the Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev. Unfortunately, the Dinamo Kiev striker chose power over accuracy and shot over the cross-bar.
The Russian team reshuffled shortly after this, bringing on Bystrov for Aldonin in the 54th minute. Just two minutes later, Alexander Kerzhakov beat three Latvian defenders to release Arshavin. His shot was saved by Latvian keeper Andrejs Piedels, but the ball cruelly ricocheted back into the path of the Zenit St.Petersburg striker, who was then able to walk the ball into an empty net.
Latvia then had Prohorenkovs and Smirnovs booked as they struggled to contain a rejuvenated Russian team. During the 77th minute, substitute Vladimir Bystrov was upended by Latvian keeper Piedels, who was booked for his lunging challenge. Loskov smashed home the resulting penalty, sending Piedels the wrong.
There was no way back for the Latvian side at 2-0, although Russia's 18-year-old Akinfeev denied the visitors a consolation goal when he was forced into a brilliant point-blank save in injury time.
Latvian coach Yurijs Andrejevs conceded defeat by saying, "I think it was a good game, but we just couldn't keep up with the Russian team in the second half."