Rudi Voller believes Germany are still on course for a place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004 after being held 0-0 by supposed tournament minnows Latvia at the Estadio do Bessa yesterday.
Germany dominated the Baltic upstarts in terms of territory but in terms of clear-cut chances it was Latvia who had the edge with their striker Maris Verpakovskis sowing mayhem in the German defence.
In the first half his brilliant solo run – he received the ball from Andrejs Prohorenkovs in the centre circle before beating Christian Worns and Frank Baumann – saw him come close to a sensational goal only for Oliver Kahn to make a fine save.
And in the second period Latvia had two penalty appeals turned down with Verpakovskis looking particularly unlucky to be turned down by English referee Mike Riley in the first incident when he tumbled after two German defenders closed ranks to baulk his run as he darted between them.
Voller remains confident that the 2002 World Cup finalists will progress to the last eight despite the mishap at the home of Boavista football club.
He told journalists: “Those of you that were with us at the pre-Euro 2004 training camp in Black Forest will remember what I have been saying all along.
“Two draws and a win will see us get into the quarter-finals – we have the two draws and now we need the win.”
However, Voller, a member of the West Germany team that won the 1990 World Cup, admitted that the match with the forthcoming Czechs was a do-or-die affair.
Voller was speaking before the Czechs beat Holland 3-2 to seal qualification for the last eight – leaving the Germans, Holland and Latvia battling for the second berth in what is generally regarded to be the competition’s “group of death”.
“The situation is very straightforward – we are in a knockout situation and now we must knock out the Czechs,” said Voller.
With the Czechs now qualified the only team that can be knocked out in that match are the Germans but Voller will at least have the benefit of taking on a team who have already reached the second phase and may therefore rest some players.
Voller admitted that Germany seem to have a problem in their striking department.
“I suppose if (Miroslav) Klose’s goal had gone in we would not have been talking about a drought but we are in a drought.
“Maybe we did not score but we did everything we could and so I have no regrets and no reproaches for my team.
“Maybe we were just not clever enough and I must say that Latvia are very good on the counter-attack.”
Voller’s faith in the German team is not necessarily shared by his Latvian counterpart Aleksandrs Starkovs who compared the Germans negatively to the Czech Republic.
Latvia led the Czech Republic 1-0 at half-time in their match at Aveiro but were beaten 2-1.
Starkovs said: “I just want to say that the game against the Czechs was much harder.
“They (the Czechs) came at us from all sorts of different angles whereas Germany only had one approach.”
Asked how he had managed to produce such a fine team from apparently meagre resources, Starkovs quipped: “That’s my professional secret.
“As long as I keep the secret I will always have a job.”
Widely seen as a guaranteed corpse in the “group of death” Latvia are in with a realistic chance of qualifying for the last eight.
If the Czechs beat Germany in their last game – or even draw – then Latvia would progress if they could shock Holland in their last match.
Starkovs would not say if Marian Pahars and Juris Laizans would get starting roles against the Dutch after only playing cameo roles so far.
Pahars had an injury in the build-up to Euro 2004 but has seen Prohorenkovs star alongside Latvia’s talisman Maris Verpakovskis up front.
Laizans was also seen as a key player but has also had to content himself with a substitute’s role in both games.
Starkovs said: “That is my choice. Pahars has been getting match-fit again and I did not want to take a risk with him or the team.
“He is getting better and I hope he will help us more in the next match.
“I want to praise him for his attitude – he has been very good with the rest of the squad and has tried to make himself useful.”