Latvia put first finals in sight by taming Turkey

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The Independent Online

Latvia took a step towards their first appearance in major finals when they pulled off a surprise 1-0 victory over Turkey in the first leg of their European Championship play-off in Riga.

They outplayed the World Cup semi-finalists for long periods of the game and gave themselves a realistic chance of winning the tie when they play the second leg in Istanbul on Wednesday.

Maris Verpakovsis scored the only goal after 29 minutes, when he turned past the defender Emre Asik and calmly chipped the ball over Turkey's vaunted goalkeeper, Rustu Recber.

A bad night for Turkey was made worse by the dismissal of Emre for elbowing the striker Vits Rimkus. He will now miss the Istanbul match, along with Rustu and the defender Fatih Akyel, who picked up yellow cards.

Ermin Siljak, Slovenia's top scorer in their Euro 2004 campaign, was on target again midway through the first half of their play-off against Croatia in Zagreb as his team earned a 1-1 draw to take back to Ljubljana on Wednesday.

In front of a 35,000 crowd at the Maksimir Stadium, a disappointing Croatia went ahead after only five minutes through Dado Prso, the Monaco striker who scored four in his club's recent 8-3 Champions' League win over Deportivo La Coruña. Prso beat the goalkeeper Mladen Dabanovic with a tap-in set up by an Ivica Mornar header from Niko Kovac's free-kick.

Slovenia, beaten only twice during their qualifying campaign, both times by their group's winners, France, fought back and Siljak headed the equaliser. But he will miss the return after being booked.

Otto Baric, the Croatia coach, remains confident. "I know exactly what to do to improve our chances in Slovenia," he said.

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