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Great Britain unpicked by Latvia in Olympic qualifier

February 7, 2013 19:51 pm

Great Britain's dreams of qualifying an ice hockey team to the Winter Olympics for the first-time in 66 years have been dealt a blow in Riga.

Tony Hand's team were ruthlessly unpicked by the vastly-experienced world number 11 side Latvia, who included several players with NHL experience in their line-up.

But the final 6-2 scoreline did not disgrace them, even if they now need two more wins and results to go their way to stand any chance of lining up in Sochi one year from today.

Great Britain, who haven't qualified for the Olympics since St. Moritz in 1948, were always going to find it tough against such a high calibre opponent.

The home side are looking to reach their fourth consecutive Games, having finished 12th in Vancouver, and took the lead after just four minutes when Gints Meija slapped home.

But within sixty seconds Great Britain, ranked 22nd in the world, were level, to the delight of a small but vocal travelling band of supporters.

Former Belfast Giant Robert Dowd, who now plays for Swedish side Troja-Ljungby, muscled himself into space and fired home from close range - his 11th goal in 26 international starts.

British goalie Stevie Lyle, who earned his 67th cap ahead of rising star Ben Bowns, pulled off a string of fine saves but Latvia retook the advantage in their first powerplay, Miks Indrasis making their numerical advantage count as the first period ended 2-1.

Great Britain worked hard to match their higher ranked opponents but repeatedly looked exposed in powerplays, Oskars Bartulis increasing Latvia's advantage when their visitors were again shorthanded.

Lyle continued to impress as Latvia piled on the pressure and Ronald Kenins further increased their lead shortly after the start of the third period.

Latvia were now playing games with their rivals, pulling them around the ice as difference between the two sides' world rankings started to show, with Georgijs Pujacs adding to the score.

But, to their credit, Great Britain never let their heads drop, Belfast Giants forward Craig Peacock adding a late consolation after Janis Sprukts had been sent to the penalty box for interference. 

However, Latvia's Lauris Darzins restored the four-goal advantage in the dying seconds.

Great Britain will now play world number number 14 France on Friday after they went down to a surprise 3-2 defeat to world number 17 Kazakhstan.

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