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Last Updated: Friday, 21 May, 2004, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Latvia relish Euro chance
Latvia's players hold up their coach Aleksandrs Starkovs after securing their Euro 2004 place
Best performance:
Qualified 2004
Latvia's qualification for Euro 2004 represents a major triumph for a country which only gained independence from the Soviet Union 13 years ago.

It is even more remarkable given Latvia's population is just 2.4 million and coach Aleksandrs Starkovs has such a small pool of players to pick from.

Starkovs was assistant to former coach Gary Johnson, now Yeovil's manager.

As well as running the national team he is also coach of Skonto FC, a team that has dominated Latvian football.

Starkovs only accepted the national coach's position on condition he could continue to coach Skonto.

The 48-year-old coach is used to taking charge of winning teams - under him Skonto have won a world record-breaking 13 national titles in succession.

Not that Skonto have to face particularly tough opposition in Latvia's eight-team league with Starkovs' team regularly winning 7-0 and 8-0.

Starkovs' dual-coaching role is unusual in international football, but it has one advantage in that it allows unprecedented access to his international players.

For the April friendly against Iceland there were seven Skonto players in Starkovs' 26-man squad.

One of those Skonto players was veteran defender Mihails Zemlinskis, who won over 90 caps for Latvia.

In attack alongside Southampton's Marian Pahars, Latvia will look to striker Maris Verpakovskis, who plays for Dynamo Kiev and scored six goals in the qualifying stages.

Latvia might be attending their first major football tournament, but the tiny Baltic state does have experience of winning a major European event.

Two years ago, of course, Marija N triumphed in Eurovision Song Contest victory with "I Wanna".

Links to more Latvia stories



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