Europe: Skonto win Baltic Champions’ Cup
Latvian champions Skonto Riga have added another honour into the trophy cabinet having won both of their games in this weekend’s Baltic Champions’ Cup.
Skonto wrapped up their 15th Latvian championship two months ago and this weekend’s indoor tournament was the perfect opportunity to begin preparing for next weekend’s CIS Cup, the tournament for former Soviet state champions, which takes place in St Petersburg. Skonto began the Champions’ Cup with a Friday evening match against Lithuanian champions FK Ekranas, the only previous winners of this trophy five years ago. The game was goalless until deep into the second half when Brazilian substitute Nathan Junior gave Skonto the lead in the 68th minute just sixty seconds after coming on for Evaldas Ražulis. Three minutes later Skonto had doubled their lead when Alexsandrs Fertovs slotted home from close range and the hosts were seemingly starting to coast the game. However there would be a slight scare six minutes from time when Aurimas Kučys pulled one back for the visitors but Skonto held out for the three points.
Estonian champions Flora Tallinn made their maiden appearance in this competition in the Saturday game against FK Ekranas who were hoping to restore some pride following the defeat to Skonto. However they would suffer further torment against Flora who dominated the game from start to finish in a heavy 6-1 rout of Lithuania’s A-Lyga holders. Hannes Anier opened the scoring after three minutes followed by a brace by Sander Post which gave Flora a commanding 3-0 lead inside the half hour mark. Ekranas pulled one back in the 37th minute through Nenad Panič only for Flora to restore the three goal margin just four minutes before the half-time interval through Sergei Mušnikov. It took a while before Flora completed the scoring but did so in fine style after substitute Rauno Alliku bagged a brace in the last ten minutes.
A winner-takes-all match was set up nicely for Sunday afternoon when the Latvian and Estonian champions faced off. Flora had the better goal difference before the game and, thus, could afford the draw if they were to win the title but Skonto had other ideas as they set their stall out very early with two goals in the first six minutes from Andrejs Perepļotkins and Renārs Rode. The game remained at 2-0 throughout the remainder of the first half with the score line extended midway through the second half when Nathan Junior helped himself to the third, giving Skonto a healthy lead. Flora, to their credit, showed some fight and were able to pull back two goals with Sander Post and Valeri Minkenen (penalty) setting up a grandstand finish with five minutes of normal time remaining. However it would be Skonto who would strike agin to make certain of the trophy when Junior bagged his second of the game three minutes into stoppage time. Skonto had won their first Baltic Champions’ Cup and still have hopes of doing a Baltic double later this year as they resume their Triobet Baltic League campaign in April.