Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Away Days: FK Jelgava v FK Jūrmala-VV

Posted in Away Days, European Football by peterbein on May 21, 2010

“Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” reports on the 2009-10 Latvian Cup final between FK Jelgava and FK Jūrmala-VV:

Having been in Glasgow for the Scottish Cup final over the weekend I was very much looking forward to going back to a favourite country of mine to watch another surprise domestic cup final. However it seemed that my Monday afternoon flight to Riga would be cancelled after further disruption caused by the now (in)famous Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. Thankfully the Gods had decided that I was to be one of the lucky ones to get away and, after arriving as scheduled on Monday evening, it was with great excitement that I went to Wednesday evening’s footballing showpiece in the Latvian capital.

Post-independence Latvian football has been dominated by three teams since the national league began in 1992; Skonto Riga, Liepājas Metalurgs and FK Ventspils. The domestic cup, known locally as Latvijas Kauss, has produced a little unpredictability from time to time. FK Jelgava, situated 45 kilometres away from Riga, had previously tasted success in this competition three times before under their previous guise of RAF Jelgava. FK Jurmala, based in a seaside resort just 25 kilometres away from Riga, had never reached this stage of the national cup before but, despite the history, were still minor favourites to win their first domestic honour. In any case it would be intriging to see who would etch their name into the trophy and follow another surprise winner, FC Daugava from Latvia’s second city of Daugavpils, who won the cup in 2008.

Before the game kicked off I had my traditional pre-match pint in the Calcio Bar which is a part of Skonto stadium. Suddenly a familiar face appeared in the distance and as he walked towards me I said to him “it’s Guntis Indriksons, isn’t it?” to which the bemused man shook his head and said no. I thought for a moment why I had got it wrong but it turned out that I had mistaken the General Secretary of the Latvian Football Federation with the President of the same organization. Some seconds later, having identified the man by his actual name of Jānis Mežeckis, I apologized for my mistake and he was kind enough to take a couple of minutes out from his pre-match schedule to talk to me about Latvian football and pose for a photo (see top). After shaking hands and wishing him well I entered the stadium to see a decent crowd building up for the game. Bearing in mind that the average attendance of the domestic league in 2009 was a mere 448, the crowd for Wednesday’s final was nearly ten times that so it was a good number by Latvian standards especially in a game not involving any of the big three.

2009-10 Latvian Cup Final

The two teams line up ahead of the 2009-10 Latvian Cup final

The two teams came out at approximately 19:35 local time ahead of kick-off with everybody in the crowd rising for the national anthem before the action got under way. In a tight first half FK Jūrmala-VV, playing in a dark blue kit,  just about got the better of the exchanges with a beautifully taken goal from Dmitrijs Paplavskis, turning with his back to goal to guide a right-footed shot home, giving the seasiders a 1-0 lead at the break. It was in the second half that the action really started to get exciting and, just ten minutes after the re-start, Igors Lapkovskis restored parity for FK Jelgava with a well-taken volley from the edge of the penalty area. As the second half went on the quality of the game dipped slightly but this was more than compensated for by the effort and spirit both teams were putting into the game, both believing that their name was on the trophy. With just fifteen minutes to go FK Jūrmala-VV had the advantage once more when Valērijs Čistjakovs scored from close range after the FK Jelgava goalkeeper Marks Bogdanovs could only parry Romāns Bessakovs’ shot into his path. But if there’s one thing you could count on in this year’s Latvian Cup it’s that FK Jelgava wouldn’t give up and, after their heroic comebacks against Liepājas Metalurgs and Skonto Riga in the two previous rounds, they managed to equalize for a second time when Oļegs Malašenoks was brought down in the box with Valērijs Redjko on hand to slot home the resulting spot kick.

With no further scoring in normal or extra-time the game went to a penalty shoot-out. The fans of FK Jelgava, amongst whose supporters I had sat alongside all evening, now firmly believed that their name was on the cup given what had happened in previous rounds. However, after both teams had scored with their first attempts in the penalty shoot-out, FK Jelgava were the first team to miss one when their second attempt was saved by Jūrmala keeper Artūrs Biezais. Further penalties were scored by both sides to make the score 4-3 to FK Jūrmala-VV with one spot kick left each. After FK Jelgava converted their final kick it was up to Romans Nagumānovs to score for Jūrmala. But, instead of celebrating a famous win, he struck his shot against the crossbar sending the penalty shoot-out into sudden death with a 4-4 scoreline after their designated five penalties. After trading a further successful spot kick each it was FK Jelgava who gained the initiative going ahead 6-5 with FK Jūrmala-VV needing to take at least one more kick. Unfortunately for FK Jūrmala-VV it proved to be the final kick of the evening when Gatis Kalniņš’ soft effort down the middle saved by Bogdanovs with his legs to spark scenes of ecstasy in the FK Jelgava section of the stadium where flares were lit to signal a colourful conclusion to the night’s showpiece. All that remained was for LFF General Secretary Mažeckis to hand over the trophy to jubilant FK Jelgava captain Valērijs Redjko who, along with his team-mates, will enter the 2010-11 UEFA Europa League at the second qualifying round.

Watch Match Highlights HERE:

It’s Cup Final Week For Stoppage Time

Posted in European Football, UK Football by peterbein on May 13, 2010
Scottish Cup

Stoppage Time will be in Glasgow to watch the Scottish Cup final between Dundee United and Ross County

“Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” is going to two cup finals in the space of a week but they’re not, perhaps, the cup finals that would immediately spring to mind on most fans’ radar. I’ll be at Hampden Park on Saturday, May 15th to witness what should be a fascinating duel as Scottish Premier League (SPL) side Dundee United face off against First Division (second tier) underdogs Ross County for the Active Nation Scottish Cup Final. Should favourites Dundee United win the trophy it’ll be their first piece of silverware since 1993-94 when the Tangerines defeating Glasgow Rangers to win the same trophy. For Ross County it’s a first major final in a season which has seen them knock out SPL giants Glasgow Celtic and Hibernian FC on the way to the big one.

On Wednesday May 19th I shall be, barring any disruption from a certain Icelandic volcano, at Skonto Stadium in the Latvian capital of Riga to watch a cup final which was every bit as unexpected as its Scottish counterpart. FK Jelgava, newly promoted to the Latvian top flight (Virslīga), play against FK Jūrmala-VV with the former hoping to win the cup for the third time whilst the latter will be playing in their first ever final. FK Jelgava have surprised everybody by disposing of Latvian giants Liepājas Metalurgs and Skonto Riga in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively having taken both teams to penalty shoot-outs in order to progress. FK Jūrmala-VV have had an easier route to the final knocking out SK Blāzma Rēzekne and JFK Olimps/RFS from Riga in the hope of landing the big prize.

Read “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” for the best of the action.

Latvian Cup

FC Daugava won the 2008 Latvian Cup. Stoppage Time will be in Riga to see who wins in 2009-10

Latvia: 2010 Season Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on April 8, 2010
Rüdiger Abramczik

Coach Rüdiger Abramczik gets his hands on the Latvian League trophy after guiding Liepājas Metalurgs to the 2009 title

The top flight of Latvian football, known as the LMT Virslīga (Higher League), kicks off this weekend with the usual suspects touted as championship contenders. Liepājas Metalurgs will hope to successfully defend the championship they won in 2009 whilst, at the same time, hoping to make a mark on the European stage. FK Ventspils may have failed in their quest for a fourth consecutive championship in 2009 but they are fancied as the team most likely to prevent Metalurgs from winning the league title this year. The third team in with a chance are Skonto Riga, Latvia’s record champions hoping to win their first league title since 2004 under the guidance of coach Alexandrs Starkovs, returning for a second stint at the helm.

Metalurgs’ coach Rüdiger Abramczik won the 2009 LMT Virslīga title in his first season in charge thanks to a five point margin over arch-rivals FK Ventspils. For most of the season the title was a three-horse race but Skonto had dropped out of the running by the time the penultimate round of league matches came around. This round of games included a head-to-head between the two title chasers Metalurgs and Ventspils, the former only needing a point to clinch their second Latvian championship which they got thanks to a 1-1 home draw. In 2010 much will depend on the champions’ ability to rotate their squad throughout the season as they fight for three trophies domestically as well as their participation in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League. At least they have maintained the services of last season’s top scorer Kristaps Grebis who will wish to emulate his figure of thirty league goals from 2009 into the new season.

FK Ventspils may have privately regretted the decision to let three-time title winning coach Roman Hryhorchuk go midway through last season after they ended 2009 without the league title. They did make history by becoming the first Latvian club to qualify for the group stages of a major European competition upon reaching the UEFA Europa League but this seemed to affect their performances domestically and new coach Nunzio Zavattieri is now under pressure to get FK Ventspils back on track especially as there have been major changes to the squad with many comings-and-goings during the pre-season. The high profile departures include Vits Rimkus, who was the league’s top scorer for two consecutive seasons in 2007 and 2008, Latvian U-21 international Edgars Gauračs and Latvian legend Vitālijs Astafjevs, who has gone back to Skonto Riga to become assistant manager.

Skonto Riga have now gone five years without a trophy which is too long for a club of their stature and history. At the end of last season Skonto decided to release English coach Paul Ashworth from his job and announced that the current Latvian national coach Alexandrs Starkovs would be his successor. Hopes are now high that Starkovs can do wonders in his second spell in charge at the club and finally bring some much needed silverware back to Latvia’s record champions, with whom Starkovs won eleven of Skonto’s fourteen championships in his first spell from 1993-2004. As well as bringing back club legend Vitālijs Astafjevs to serve as Starkovs’ number two, Skonto have made one notable player change bringing in Latvian international midfielder Juris Laizāns back from FK Ventspils to join up with the squad which retains many of the players who put up a close fight for the title last season eventually finishing six points behind Metalurgs in third place.

There have been many travails off the pitch in recent years within the LMT Virslīga, most damaging were the revelations that FC Dinaburg (Daugavpils) were alleged to have been involved in match fixing and the club were duly disqualified from participating in the league for the last six matches of the 2009 season and all of the points they’d accumulated that season taken away from them. Hopefully the league can put this terrible episode behind them and can concentrate on the football with the league increased from nine to ten teams in the 2010 season. As well as the “Big Three” the Latvian top flight contains SK Blāzma (Rēzekne), FK Jūrmala-VV, JFK Olimps/RFS (Riga) and FC Tranzits (Ventspils) and those seven have been joined from last season’s First League champions FK Jelgava, First League runners-up FK Jaunība Riga (who beat Daugava Riga in a two-legged end-of-season promotion/relegation play-off in 2009) and FC Daugava (Daugavpils) who have been included in order to have at least one representative from Latvia’s second largest city.

LMT VIRSLIGA MATCHDAY 1 FIXTURES

Liepājas Metalurgs v SK Blāzma Rēzekne

FK Jelgava v FK Ventspils

JFK Olimps/RFS v FC Daugava Daugavpils

FC Tranzits (Ventspils) v FK Jaunība Riga

Skonto Riga v FK Jūrmala-VV

All matches played between 10-11 April, 2010