Germany’s hopes of reaching the knock out stages of Euro 2004 have receded, after they were held 0-0 by a hard working Latvian team.
Germany, the most succesful team in the history of the European Championships, looked a pale shadow of the side that came so close to beating Holland in their opening game. Coach Rudi Voller, who has borne the brunt of press criticism after some terrible pre-tournament displays, can expect to be pilloried for his team’s performance. Meanwhile, Latvia coach Aleksandrs Starkovs, can reflect on a job well done and he may even rue the fact that his team did not go on and win the match.
The first chance of the match fell to Kuranyi, who controlled the ball on the edge of the Latvian penalty area and produced a well-struck shot which went inches wide.
Germany controlled possession but their methodical build-up play was creating few chances. Nonetheless, Ballack and Kuranyi both had clear headers, only the latter of which tested Latvian keeper Kolinko,
At the other end Kahn was enjoying a quiet afternoon, although he was called into action 5 minutes before the break. Verpakovskis performed a neat turn just inside his own half to beat his marker and sped off towards the German goal, chased by a pack of defenders. His pace kept him ahead of his pursuers and only a weak shot, easily saved by Kahn, prevented Latvia from taking the lead against the run of play.
After the break the initial signs seemed promising for Voller’s side. Schweinsteiger was introduced for Schneider in the hope of bringing some craft into Germany’s play and the early moments of the half saw a brief flurry of activity wiithin the Latvian penalty area.
Kuranyi made a great run into the Latvian penalty area, eluding two defenders on his way, but his cross was blocked by the impressive Stepanovs.
Ballack, who played with quiet authority without ever really imposing himself on the match, set up the next chance but when his header fell to Baumann, but the defender hooked his shot wide.
It wasn’t all Germany though and Latvia had reason to feel aggrieved when the energetic Verpakovskis looked to have been brought down for a penalty by Baumann only for referee Mike Riley to wave play on. The same player susbequently had a second appeal for a penalty turned down when he was upended by Worns.
Lacking the invention to play their way through a stubborn Latvian defence, Germany’s best hope looked to be through set pieces. They enjoyed an height advantage over their opponents, but their delivery for the most part was lamentable.
Although Germany forced a succession of free-kicks and corners, they never really tested Kolinko and the Latvian keeper , whose handling in the first game was uncertain, was an assured presence this time around.
Germany’s best chance of the match fell two minutes into injury time when the substitute Klose arrived at the far post but his header was directed wide of the post.
When the final whistle went, the Latvians, playing at their first major tournament, were understandably elated. They stayed on the pitch to salute their small band of travelling supporters, whose ranks had been swollen by most of the neutrals present.
In contrast, Germany skulked off the pitch, aware that they and Voller would be crucified by the German media. They have one more chance to make amends when they face the Czech Republic in their final group game, but on this form, an early departure looksonthe cards.
Germany 0-0 Latvia
Latvia:1-Aleksandrs Kolinko; 7-Aleksandrs Isakovs, 2-Igors Stepanovs, 4-Mihails Zemlinskis, 6-Olegs Blagonadezdins; 8-Imants Bleidelis, 14-Valentin Lobanovs (5-Juris Laizans 70), 3-Vitalijs Astafjevs, 10-Andrejs Rubins; 11-Andrejs Prohorenkovs (17-Marian Pahars 67), 9-Maris Verpakovskis (16-Dzintars Zirnis 90+2).
Germany: 1-Oliver Kahn; 3-Arne Friedrich, 4-Christian Woerns, 6-Frank Baumann, 21-Philipp Lahm; 8-Dietmar Hamann, 19-Bernd Schneider (7-Bastian Schweinsteiger 46), 13-Michael Ballack, 22-Torsten Frings; 10-Kevin Kuranyi (14-Thomas Brdaric 78), 9-Fredi Bobic (11-Miroslav Klose 67).
Referee: Mike Riley (England)