Czechs wary of Latvian threat

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The Independent Football

Some upsets are greater than others. While Greece's victory over the host nation drew gasps of surprise just about everywhere last weekend, it is widely assumed that a minor miracle is what Latvia will need to find a way past the Czech Republic in Aveiro this afternoon.

Some upsets are greater than others. While Greece's victory over the host nation drew gasps of surprise just about everywhere last weekend, it is widely assumed that a minor miracle is what Latvia will need to find a way past the Czech Republic in Aveiro this afternoon.

Yet Aleksandrs Starkovs, who learned his trade under former Latvian coach Gary Johnson - now at Yeovil - said that the tiny Balkan country is not just at Euro 2004 to make up the numbers.

Starkovs is looking for a combination of defensive organisation and good fortune to send the Czechs the way of Portugal and add yet another chapter to the remarkable development of the latest eastern European country to rise up and challenge the big boys.

"We will only be happy with a draw or a win," Starkovs declared proudly on the eve of the game against the country many believe could well go all the way.

In Maris Verpakovskis, Latvia have a genuine danger man. The Dynamo Kiev striker should line up alongside Southampton's Marian Pahars and is raring to go. "We have no experience at major tournaments but the players know that starting with a good result would put us in a great position," he said.

Pavel Nedved, the Czechs' mercurial playmaker, has warned against complacency. "Just because Latvia are not famous does not mean we can concentrate any less," he said.

"You only have to look at what Greece did to realise there are no bad teams here. We are pleased to be playing Latvia first but that's no good unless we win the game."

Meanwhile, Johnson is here to give moral support to a country with only eight professional clubs and barely 100 players to choose from.

"They know that they have got as far as they ever could have dreamed and when teams are in that frame of mind, they can become very dangerous," he said.

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