Europe: Latvia wins 11th Baltic Cup title
The 2012 Baltic Cup has taken place over the course of the weekend and the tournament, held in Estonia, proved to be an interesting affair. The Baltic Cup saw Finland enter the competition for the very first time to join the usual line-up of the Baltic States nations, namely Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The tournament, usually played in a mini-league format, changed into a straight knockout format and with that came three days, four games and eleven goals worth of action.
Lithuania came into this year’s Baltic Cup as the defending champions having won the previous tournament on home soil in 2010. They were paired with Latvia in the first of this year’s semi-finals with both nations hoping to become the first country to win the competition for the eleventh time. A win for either team would see that dream come one step closer to reality but the manner by which Latvia would go on to defeat their old rivals was surprising. Aleksandrs Cauņa scored the opening goal in the twelfth minute from the penalty spot and with further strikes in the first half from Edgars Gauračs and Aleksejs Višņakovs the game was as good as over at half-time. To compound the misery for Lithuania, a second goal for Gauračs in the 48th minute was followed by a late strike for Vitālijs Smirnovs as Latvia thrashed the champions by five goals to nil to ease their way into this year’s final.
The second semi-final was a much closer affair. Estonia, whose most recent tournament win came as far back as 1938, were hoping to at least reach the final but they came up against new boys Finland who were desperate to make a mark in their first Baltic Cup. A crowd of 2,400 in Tartu, Estonia’s second largest city, saw the visitors take an early two goal lead with Njazi Kuqi, lesser known brother of former Newcastle United player Shefki, bagging a brace as early as the 22nd minute. The hosts did manage to pull one back on the half hour mark through Andres Oper but, try as they might, they were unable to restore parity and the Finns were through to their first Baltic Cup final courtesy of a 2-1 victory.
Yesterday saw Estonia gain some consolation by winning the third/fourth place play-off against Lithuania. Vladimir Voskoboinikov scored the only goal of the game after 18 minutes to give the home fans something to shout about. In the final a more competitive affair saw Latvia and Finland fight out a 1-1 draw. The game was goalless at the break but the deadlock was broken on 52 minutes with Finland’s Toni Kolehmainen giving the tournament new boys the lead. Just two minutes later Latvia had equalized through the competition’s top scorer Edgars Gauračs and with no further scoring for the rest of the game the destiny of the Baltic Cup would be decided on penalties.
Both teams missed their first kicks of the shoot-out, Teemu Pukki missing for Finland whilst Aleksandrs Cauņa did likewise for Latvia. Both teams then went on to convert their next four penalties in the shoot-out, thus creating a sudden death situation. Six further spot kicks were needed but when Kolehmainen missed his kick for Finland the pressure then fell upon Latvia’s Vladislavs Kozlovs to win the game. This he did and, having won the shoout-out 6-5, Latvia could celebrate a record eleventh Baltic Cup triumph.