Latvians shock Northern Ireland

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The Independent Online
Northern Ireland 1

Latvia 2

Northern Ireland's hopes of reaching the European Championship finals were dashed in last night's Group Six qualifier at Windsor Park.

Their humbling by Latvia will be lauded in the Republic as much as it will be lamented north of the border. The result enhances Jack Charlton's chances of going to England next year with his team, but left the North facing the prospect of again failing to reach the finals of a major tournament.

Northern Ireland snatched the lead in first-half injury time through Iain Dowie. The industrious Michael Hughes swung over a free-kick after he had been fouled, and Dowie dived full length to head his fourth goal in his last five internationals.

However, two goals in four second-half minutes turned the game. Armands Zeiberlinsh equalised when he raced through the middle of the Irish defence and calmly slotted the ball past Alan Fettis.

It stunned the home crowd, who hardly had time to catch their breath before the visitors went ahead. This time the defender Vitaly Astafyev struck as the home defence stood transfixed, vainly claiming offside.

Keith Gillespie came on in a desperate bid to pull the game out of the fire as Latvia's goal lived a charmed life in the final 15 minutes, but Bryan Hamilton's men simply could not find a way through.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Fettis (Hull); McGibbon (Manchester United), Worthington (Leeds), Taggart (Barnsley), McDonald (Queen's Park Rangers), Morrow (Arsenal), McMahon (Tottenham), Magilton (Southampton), Dowie (Crystal Palace), Rowland (West Ham), Hughes (Strasbourg). Substitutes: Patterson (Crystal Palace) for McGibbon, h-t; Gillespie (Newcastle) for Rowland, 64.

LATVIA: Laizan; Troickis, Astafyev, Sprogis, Zakresevskis, Monjak, Ivanov, Zeiberlinsh, Rimkus (Yeliseyev, 70), Babicevs (Petplovs, 82), Bledidelis.

Referee: J A Roca (Spain).