Europe: Latvia title race in four way battle; Baltic round-up
Just like in Scandinavia, the various football leagues of the Baltic States are approaching the business end of the 2011 campaign. As well as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, this report will feature Belarus.
Earlier this season the Latvian Virslīga looked like a one horse race as FK Ventspils stormed into the lead when dropping just two out of thirty six points in their opening twelve games of the season. It is a very different story now as any one of four teams will fancy their chances of winning the championship. The usual suspects – FK Ventspils, Skonto Riga and Liepājas Metalurgs – are there as well as a new contender in the form of FC Daugava (38 points) from the Latvian second city of Daugavpils. They currently lead the table despite having lost their most recent game last Sunday to FC Jurmala. Before Sunday’s mishap FC Daugava were unbeaten in their last ten matches with seven wins and three draws helping to propel them up the table. This form compares with that of defending champions Skonto (7 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss) in the same period whilst FK Ventspils, who have failed to win any of their last five games, and Metalurgs, who have lost five of their last nine, have stuttered in the last couple of months and have let the others back into the title race.
Lithuania’s A Lyga is headed once again by defending champions FK Ekranas (47 points) who remain unbeaten after 19 games played. The club which has won each of the last three championships has a three point lead over Žalgiris Vilnius who has played a game more. The top two are scheduled to meet this Sunday with the league leaders at home and one feels that the destination of the title will be almost certain should Ekranas take all three points at the weekend. Should Ekranas slip up, FK Sūduva will be hoping to pounce with a win against FK Atlantas Klaipeda and reduce the gap at the top of the table.
The Meistriliiga table is misleading as it looks a lot more competitive than it actually is. Champions Flora Tallinn (50 points) may only have a two point advantage over second place JK Nõmme Kalju but the latter have played two games more. Even third place Trans Narva and fourth place Levadia Tallinn have played three and one game more respectively thus ensuring that Flora have games in hand on all of their title rivals. The likelihood is that Flora, who remain unbeaten after 20 games, will clinch their second successive title, and ninth overall, this season. However next week sees a double-header of Estonian football’s very own Superclásico with Flora meeting Levadia twice in the space of five days and the results of those games could make or break the title race.
In Belarus perennial champions BATE Borisov (47 points) are running away with it once more as they hold an eight point lead over nearest challengers Shakhtyor Soligorsk in the race for the Premier League title. BATE have only lost one match this season, a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Dinamo Minsk, and have conceded only eight goals in twenty games proving that they are still the dominant force within the domestic game. Even if they were to lose their upcoming meeting with Shakhtyor on September 9th, BATE have more than enough left in the tank to clinch a sixth successive championship with enough time to spare.