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Verpakovskis hopes for more goal magic in Portugal
Maris Verpakovskis
Dinamo Kiew
Maris Verpakovskis became a national hero when his goals secured Latvia a ticket to the Euro 2004 finals and he now hopes to take the Baltic nation to new footballing heights in Portugal.

In the absence of the injured Marian Pahars, the 24-year-old Verpakovskis took on the role of lone striker in the Latvia team to great effect, scoring six times in the qualifying campaign.

His goals helped Latvia into the playoffs by finishing runners-up behind Sweden in their qualifying group and he was on target again as they sensationally beat 2002 World Cup semi-finalists Turkey over two legs last November.

After that triumph, the crowds who gathered on the streets of Riga toasted all their heroes but one name was chanted louder and more often than the others -- "Maris".

The draw for the tournament's opening round was not kind to the Latvians as it grouped them with Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, all former European champions.

"It will be difficult but I hope the magic from the qualifying round will come back to me," Verpakovskis told Reuters.

Verpakovskis has all the attributes necessary to play up front in the 4-5-1 formation that Latvia coach Aleksandrs Starkovs favours.

Lightning quick, he has the stamina to run all day and holds the ball up well to allow support to join him, as well as being able to take it past defenders.

But it is Verpakovskis's talent for scoring goals when it matters that sets him apart.

He got the winner against Sweden that secured Latvia's place in the playoffs, the only goal in the first leg of the playoff against Turkey, and another to secure the 2-2 draw in Istanbul which won the tie 3-2 on aggregate.

He also scored the only goal of the game on March 31 when Latvia won 1-0 in Slovenia in a warm-up friendly, scoring after some sloppy Slovenian defending. No opposing back four player should take their eyes off him for a moment.

Last August, Verpakovskis spent some time at English premier league club Wolverhampton Wanderers in the hope of landing a transfer from Skonto Riga.

Nothing came of that trial and by the time the premier league transfer window reopened in January, Verpakovskis's goalscoring exploits had attracted the attention of a number of top European clubs, including Olympiakos, Arsenal and Dynamo Kiev.

In the end, he signed a five-year contract with the Ukrainian club.

"I like Kiev," he said. "It's a beautiful city and I feel comfortable playing for Dynamo."
- Erik Brynhildsbakken




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