Latvia: Skonto Riga win 15th championship (+video)
It’s been a long wait for Latvia’s most decorated club but Skonto Riga finally clinched a record extending 15th LMT Virslīga title today following a 2-2 draw at home to nearest challengers FK Ventspils. The point gained meant that Skonto maintain a six point cushion at the top of the table with just one match remaining and for coach Alexsandrs Starkovs signals the beginning of a new era for his beloved club after six years without a major trophy.
With 65 points from 25 games and a six point margin before today’s match kicked off Skonto were already virtually assured of the title. The only way the title would go down to the final week would be if FK Ventspils were to beat their hosts in today’s game. With head-to-head records being used in Latvia for the first time this season, and with both clubs having had one win apiece in their previous two league meetings, it was imperative for FK Ventspils that they win today, reduce the gap at the top to three points and hope that Skonto would lose their final home game next week. But for Skonto only a point was necessary but they earned it the hard way having to come from behind twice.
FK Ventspils gained the initiative as early as the 13th minute when Artūrs Zjuzins gave the vistors the lead and restored hope to the Yellow and Blues that a fourth championship crown might be heading its way back to Latvia’s Baltic coast. However parity was restored with seven first half minutes remaining thanks to Kaspar Dubra. With the game tied at 1-1 at the break it was finely poised for a second half showdown and only the most determined team would make or break this encounter. That team appeared to be FK Ventspils when, in the 53rd minute, Jurijs Žigajevs re-established the lead for FKV and all they had to do was make sure that they kept hold of the advantage. Alas that advantage was lost in the final quarter of the match. In the 74th minute Igors Tarasovs scored Skonto’s second leveller of the day and so the initiative returned to Starkovs’ men who just needed to resist any further attacks from their opponents until the final whistle.
Cue the final whistle and the celebrations could begin for the Latvian capital side. For coach Alexsandrs Starkovs it was a fantastic season back at the helm for the man who guided Skonto to eleven consecutive titles between 1993-2004. In his absence only one further title was added, the 2004 championship under Jurijs Andrejevs, before Englishman Paul Ashworth took over the reins from 2005-2009 in what sadly proved to be a largely unsuccessful period. Having seen arch-rivals Liepājas Metalurgs and FK Ventspils lift the last five championship titles between them it is finally time for Skonto FC to re-capture their glory days and call themselves Latvia’s Number 1 once more.
NOTE: Stoppage Time – International Football Blog will be in Riga next week to see Skonto’s final match of the season against local rivals FK Jaunība, a game you can read about in our Away Days section.
WATCH SKONTO RIGA v FK VENTSPILS HIGHLIGHTS HERE: