Fresh from becoming the most-capped national team player in Europe, Latvia captain Vitālijs Astafjevs reflected on his 158 international appearances and told uefa.com: "I was happy to play the first time."
Latvia suffered a 2-1 friendly defeat by 2010 FIFA World Cup contenders Honduras over the weekend, but Astafjevs stole the limelight after overtaking the retired Estonian Martin Reim. "I cannot say I do not care for the record at all," he told uefa.com after receiving a commemorative glass plate in front of a 30,000-strong crowd. "But I was not trying to set it at all costs, I just played for my country."
Astafjevs made his international bow at the age of 21 as a substitute against Denmark during qualification for the 1994 FIFA World Cup. "Though it was a long time ago, I remember that match very well," added the 38-year-old. "We played the European champions and were happy to hold them to a 0-0 draw in Riga because they were a real force. As for me, I was happy to play for Latvia for the first time. It was a good start to a good journey that I crowned with a record."
Having helped his country to notable wins against the likes of Norway, Finland and Sweden during his career, Astafjevs is in no doubt that captaining them to their first major final tournament, UEFA EURO 2004™, ranks highest on his CV. "The biggest achievement of Latvian football was when we qualified," he said of the tournament in Portugal, which included a memorable goalless draw with Germany. "I am happy I took part in that."
Astafjevs has won seven Latvian titles and three Latvian Footballer of the Year accolades in a career which has included spells with Skonto FC, FK Austria Wien, Bristol Rovers FC, FC Rubin Kazan and FK Ventspils. He seems set to return to hometown club Skonto next season and is yet to show any sign of calling time on his playing days. "I do not think about how long I am going to play yet," he continued. "It is the end of the season now and I will think about that during my vacation. Before now, the fact that I can be useful for the team and the coach's trust is what gave me strength. But now I just want to have some rest."