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Thursday, April 29, 2004 

Arason frustrates dominant Latvia (Latvia 0 - Iceland 0, friendly match)

UEFA EURO 2004™ contenders Latvia had to settle for a draw in Riga after being thwarted by an excellent goalkeeping display by Iceland's Árni Gautur Arason.

The home side enjoyed most of the possession and created more clear-cut chances, but Andrejs Prohorenkovs was among the players who could not find a way to goal.

Latvia did have the ball in the back of the net after eight minutes when Igors Stepanovs (picture) stole ahead of his marker to head a free-kick past Arason, but the defender's effort was ruled offside. Andrejs Rubins then wasted a golden opportunity to give Latvia the lead just before half-time, slicing wide when unmarked eight metres from goal after he was picked out by Vitalis Astafjevs' left-wing cross.

Iceland struggled to assert themselves on the game early on, with striker Tryggvi Gudmundsson finding himself isolated up front. Thordur Gudjónsson found more joy down the right flank: the tricky winger had Iceland's best chance of the first half when he raced down the wing, cut inside and sent a left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area just over the bar.

Midfield playmaker Jurijs Laizans started to make an impact after the break, carving out several opportunities for his side, only to find Arason always in the right place at the right time for Iceland. Prohorenkovs missed another great chance to open the scoring in the 49th minute, scuffing his shot from six metres and allowing Arason to save.

The big centre forward did well 15 minutes later to stretch and divert the ball goalwards as Laizans whipped in another great cross, but again Arason was equal to the task. Prohorenkovs then shot over the bar when the ball fell to his feet from the resulting corner.

Laizans grew in confidence as the match progressed and nearly made the breakthrough when he danced through several challenges into the Iceland box, but his shot was struck straight at the perfectly positioned Arason. Both coaches started to ring the changes midway through the second period, but Latvia's luck was summed up when Marians Pahars limped off just 12 minutes after coming off the substitutes' bench.

Iceland's creative influence disappeared when Thordur Gudjónsson was substituted. Indridi Sigurdsson then missed Iceland's best opportunity of the match, latching on to a loose ball and blasting over from six metres. However, the visitors were happy to see out the closing minutes to come away with a hard-earned draw.

source: uefa.com.

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