Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Latvia: Three-way battle ensures exciting title race

Posted in European Football by peterbein on October 13, 2011
FK Ventspils

FK Ventspils, seen here with the 2008 title, are favourites to win in 2011

With five rounds of matches to go in Latvia’s Virsliga the title race has been whittled down to three teams. Defending champions Skonto Riga virtually have no chance of winning this year’s competition as they lie in fourth place, 14 points behind league leaders FK Ventspils but the capital side will still play a decisive part in the destination of the title as they must face-off against each of the contenders.

This weekend sees Skonto play host to surprise package Daugava Daugavpils who are in third place, four points behind Ventspils but have played a game more. The biggest game of the weekend, however, will take place on the Baltic coast with the top two of FK Ventspils and Liepājas Metalurgs playing at the former’s home Olimpiskais Stadium. Due to a lack of a credible local rivalry for Skonto, the “Derby of Kurzeme” is the biggest rivalry in Latvia. These teams have won five of the last six championships between them and they are currently separated by three points but Metalurgs have played one game more. Should FK Ventspils emerge triumphant in Saturday’s big match it could provide the Yellow and Blue with a massive psychological advantage. Should Metalurgs win the title race will be all the more exciting especially if Daugava should win their match away in Riga.

But it isn’t just this weekend which will see the top four meet each other. Next Wednesday sees Metalurgs play host to Skonto before the former travel to Latvia’s second city of Daugavpils to play FC Daugava on Sunday week. Should FC Daugava overcome the challenge of Metalurgs then they will go into the October 30th match at home to Ventspils in good heart and a win in front of their supporters would be a great way to end the season. Depending on results FC Daugava will then have to wait to see what their fate will be when Ventspils host Skonto Riga in the final round of matches on November 5th.

At the bottom of the table Olimps/RFS already know that they will participate in the end of season promotion/relegation play-offs. Riga’s lesser known football club only have six points to show from their 29 games and are ten points behind eighth place FK Jūrmala-VV with three matches to play and, thus, unable to catch up.

Latvia: Metalurgs put pressure on leaders after derby win

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 27, 2011

Liepājas MetalurgsThe Latvian football championship looks set to have one of its more unpredictable seasons this year as the four way battle for the title continued today. All of the top four teams were involved in matches against each other and it has proven to be a great day for two-time champions Liepājas Metalurgs.

Metalurgs faced off against local rivals FK Ventspils in the Derby of Kurzeme, the region of Latvia which lies on the Baltic coast in the west of the country, and saw off their neighbours with a vital 2-1 victory. All of the goals came in the first half with Metalurgs taking a two goal lead thanks to strikes from Jurģis Kalns (9 minutes) and Pāvels Surņins (19) before Ventspils pulled one back through Evgeny Postnikov (27). Although there were no further goals the game saw no shortage of action including a red card for Ventspils defender Jevgēņijs Kosmačovs after the final whistle following an attack on an opponent. Metalurgs held out for the win in front of a healthy 1500 crowd and the three points helped the team into second place in the table.

Table toppers FC Daugava Daugavpils are two points ahead of Metalurgs following a goalless draw at home to record champions Skonto Riga. The second city team, who have defied all expectations this season to top the table, were unable to break down a resolute Skonto side this afternoon and had to be content with a point. Daugava midfielder Vadims Logins saw red in the last minute of the game for a second bookable offence which would’ve compounded the home team’s frustrations further.

Nevertheless FC Daugava still remain top with 47 points from 23 games, two points ahead of Metalurgs who have played the same number of matches. FK Ventspils also lie two points behind the leaders but have played only 21 games whilst Skonto Riga have 41 points from 22 games.

Europe: Skonto and Ventspils have one foot in Baltic final

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 4, 2011

Triobet Baltic League logoLatvian clubs Skonto Riga and FK Ventspils hold the advantage following the Triobet Baltic League semi-final, 1st legs which have taken place over the last two nights.

In an all-Latvian clash Skonto Riga took on 2007 Baltic League champions Liepājas Metalurgs in the second such clash in less than a week. In the Latvian league match played last weekend Metalurgs defeated Skonto 2-0 at their home stadium and were hoping for a repeat in tonight’s Baltic League fixture. But Skonto, the only one of Latvia’s traditional big three not to have won this competition, have as good as secured themselves a place in the 2010-11 tournament final as they put five goals past their rivals and gained some revenge for Saturday’s setback. Skonto took a solitary one goal lead into the break with Igors Tarasovs breaking the deadlock four minutes before half-time. The floodgates opened in the second half with Renārs Rode doubling Skonto’s advantage in the 54th minute before Nathan Junior added a third midway through the second half. Two late goals from Ruslans Mingazovs and Artūrs Karašauskas sealed the deal for Skonto and they are almost certain to progress to the final barring any disasters in the second leg.

On Tuesday FK Ventspils travelled to Lithuania to play their semi-final, 1st leg against FK Šiauliai. The Lithuanians are going well in their domestic league just three points behind leaders FK Ekranas whilst defending Baltic League champions FK Ventspils are a similar distance behind Latvian league leaders Metalurgs. The game was tight in the first half with both teams limited on chances and going into the half-time period with a goalless score line. Ventspils broke the deadlock in the second half after Vladimirs Bespalovs in the 57th minute and the three-time Latvian champions took the game in their stride. A goal for Olegs Žatkins three minutes into stoppage time put the result beyond doubt and gives FK Ventspils the perfect opportunity to reach back-to-back finals.

The second legs will be played on May 24-25.

Latvia: Skonto big winners as Metalurgs beat Ventspils (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 22, 2010

The Latvian Vīrsliga took another interesting twist in the championship race today as Skonto Riga now enjoy a five point lead over their nearest title rivals FK Ventspils. After Skonto had put a dent into Liepājas Metalurgs’ title ambitions last week it was to be Skonto, Latvia’s most successful club, who would be celebrating again after this weekend’s round of games went very much in their favour. Early Sunday afternoon saw Metalurgs, the defending champions, start the day in fourth place after FC Daugava’s 1-0 win over FK Jaunība Riga saw the team from Latvia’s second city of Daugavpils leapfrog Metalurgs. If the champions were to regain any title ambitions they had to beat FK Ventspils away from home in the game known as the “Derby of Kurzeme”, named after the region home to the two cities on Latvia’s Baltic coast.

The game started off nervously but there were a few chances for either side but for the first fourty five minutes neither side had their shooting boots on and the game remained goalless at the break. The second half was a different game altogether with the champions going two goals up by the 53rd minute mark thanks to strikes from Kristaps Grebis and Takafumi Akahoshi. The home side won a penalty kick with just a quarter of an hour remaining and Jurijs Žigajevs halved the deficit from the spot but this didn’t deter Metalurgs from attacking their hosts and the game was sealed with another goal for Grebis in the 77th minute and the game was put to bed by Jurģis Kalns sixty seconds into stoppage time. There was still enough time for Žigajevs to score his second of the game for FK Ventspils but by then the damage was done and the champions had got their season back on track.

WATCH FK VENTSPILS v LIEPAJAS METALURGS HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

This result meant that Skonto Riga could increase their lead in the standings with a win over SK Blāzma Rēzekne and Alexandrs Starkovs’ men would do that in fine style. Brazilian Nathan Junior has been amongst the goals this season and he bagged a brace to give Skonto a two goal lead after 24 minutes and the lead would be increased two minutes later by Andrejs Perepļotkins to give the capital club a 3-0 lead at the break. In the second half Aleksandrs Cauņa made it 4-0 just two minutes after the restart and he would score his second of the game on 79 minutes. The final goal of the game came from Alans Siņeļņikovs with five minutes to go and it capped an easy day’s work for Skonto who now look forward to two difficult games against fourth place FC Daugava and second place FK Ventspils on Matchdays 17 and 18 respectively. After Matchday 18 the final lap of fixtures (i.e. Matchdays 19-27) for each club will be determined in accordance with league placings. At the moment Skonto lead the table with 43 points from 16 games, FK Ventspils have 38 points whilst Metalurgs are a further five points behind. FC Daugava in fourth place have 32 points and are serious about challenging for a place in the UEFA Europa League next season especially as their win over FK Jaunība on Saturday was the club’s sixth win in seven games. At the bottom things remain tight as only five points separate Latvian Cup winners FK Jelgava in sixth place (16 games, 15 points) from FK Jaunība at the bottom in tenth spot.   

Europe: Summer Leagues Special (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on June 13, 2010
Aleksejs Višņakovs

Aleksejs Višņakovs was on the scoresheet for FK Ventspils in their 2-1 win at home to Skonto Riga

Although the focus for the next four weeks will heavily be centred upon South Africa and the FIFA World Cup, Stoppage Time – International Football Blog will continue providing the latest news in some of the European leagues which take place throughout the summer months. In Latvia yesterday there was a top of the table clash between FK Ventspils and Skonto Riga, Lithuania saw a new leader in the A Lyga championship race whilst in Estonia there are three teams on the same number of points at the top of the table. We also keep you up to date with the latest news from Belarus and Finland.

The biggest game of the weekend in Latvia was between FK Ventspils and record champions Skonto Riga, the latter having a six point lead over FKV before the match kicked off. A crowd of one thousand turned up for the game and, after a goalless first half, it was the home supporters who were cheering first in the 48th minute when Aleksejs Višņakovs received a long ball into the penalty box, controlled it neatly with his right foot and guided it home from ten yards out to give FKV the lead. Six minutes later and it got better for Nunzio Zavettieri’s Ventspils side when captain Grigory Chirkin received the ball midway inside his own half as Ventspils broke on the counter attack. Chirkin then went down the left before cutting inside and unleashed a shot from just outside the box which Skonto keeper Kaspars Ikstens was unable to hold onto and the Yellow and Blues had a two nil lead. Skonto did pull a goal back late on when Armands Pētersons shot low into the bottom right corner to halve the deficit but FK Ventspils managed to hold out for a much-needed victory. With defending champions Liepājas Metalurgs also winning their game at home to FC Tranzits by two goals to nil it was imperative for FK Ventspils to win in order to stay in touch with the title chasers. After yesterday’s games Skonto still lead the table with 25 points from 10 games, FK Ventspils have 22 points from 9 games and Metalurgs are a further point behind having also played nine games. Watch FK Ventspils v Skonto Riga highlights HERE:

In Lithuania there is a new leader, for at least twenty hours anyway, as defending title holders FK Ekranas won 5-0 at home against FK Mažeikia with Ramūnas Radavičius and Vīts Rimkus each scoring a brace and Egidijus Varnas scoring the other one to put FK Ekranas level on points with FK Žalgiris Vilnius. The capital side play later today against third-placed FK Sūduva in a match which could have important consequences for the title race. FK Sūduva, fresh from qualifying for the Triobet Baltic League final earlier in the week, will go to within a point of the top two if they can beat second-placed Žalgiris so it’s an important match for all concerned.

The Estonian Meistriliiga is shaping up into a fascinating three horse race with traditional powers Flora Tallinn and Levadia Tallinn fighting it out with surprise challenger FC Trans Narva. FC Flora, who lost out to FK Ventspils in the Triobet Baltic League semi-finals this week, beat FC Lootus 4-0 away from home and were grateful to learn that FC Levadia, champions for the last four seasons, had dropped two points at home to JK Nõmme Kalju in a goalless stalemate. FC Trans’ 3-0 home win against FC Kuresaare took them to the forty point mark, the same number as the Tallinn “Old Firm”, but FC Trans have played 19 league matches so far compared to FC Flora’s 16 and FC Levadia’s 17.

Finland’s Veikkausliiga could prove to be a tight contest this season as there are ten teams separated by just seven points although some teams have yet to play their ninth game whilst some teams already have done so. Friday night saw JJK Jyväskylä beat FF Jaro by three goals to one with striker Tommi Kari getting on the scoresheet twice whilst on Saturday AC Oulu kept up their title challenge with a 3-0 win away at FC Lahti thanks to a brace from Mika Nurmela and a lone strike from Jean Ngambe Ngambe. Defending champions HJK Helsinki are amongst the six teams playing on Sunday, facing off against MyPa in their Matchday 9 tie, whilst second-placed Honka Espoo face KuPS Kuopio and FC Haka plays against bottom club IFK Mariehamn. Two further games on Monday, FC Tampere v TPS Turku and Inter Turku and VPS Vaasa, complete the round.

The 14th round of games will take place on Monday in the Belarussian Vysshaya Liga with BATE Borisov in their usual first place position in the table. They have a five point lead as they go into their match with fifth-placed FC Minsk whilst second-placed Dinamo Minsk will fancy their chances of keeping up with BATE with a win at home to third bottom side FC Neman Grodno. Poor old Partizan Minsk have still to win a game in the championship, having only scored two points from thirteen games, and will seek that maiden victory away at eighth-placed Lokomotiv Vitebsk.

Triobet Baltic League: Mixed Emotions for Latvian Clubs

Posted in European Football by peterbein on June 9, 2010
Triobet Baltic League

The finalists for the 2009-10 Triobet Baltic League are now known

Any hopes of a second all-Latvian final in the Triobet Baltic League competition have been dashed by the 4-2 aggregate defeat to Latvian champions Liepājas Metalurgs in their encounter with Lithuanians FK Sūduva. On Tuesday FK Ventspils had ensured their semi-final triumph over first-time semi-finalists from Estonia FC Flora Tallinn with a goalless draw helping to preserve the Latvians’ two goal lead from the first leg. It is the second time in a row that teams from Latvia and Lithuania will meet in the final after FBK Kaunas’ 2-1 victory over Skonto Riga in the 2008 tournament final.

FK Ventspils, three-time Latvian champions, got the better of maiden semi-finalists FC Flora and it was not one, but two men with the name of Višņakovs who secured the team on Latvia’s Baltic coast their first leg 2-0 win. With only seventeen minutes played it was Aleksejs Višņakovs who gave FKV the lead and it was his namesake Eduards Višņakovs who sealed the deal late in the game with a well struck effort in the 72nd minute. The second leg had some chances for both sides but neither could find their shooting boots. This would be of no concern to Nunzio Zavettieri’s Ventspils side who defended their two goal cushion from the first leg to put themselves into their second Triobet Baltic League final. Now they had to wait to see who would join them.

Current Latvian champions Liepājas Metalurgs lost their heads in the first leg of their semi-final to FK Sūduva going down to a catastrophic 3-0 defeat at the hands of their opponents in the Lithuanian town of Marijampolė. Nerijus Radžius and Karolis Chvedukas scored in the last ten minutes of the first half to give Metalurgs a major wake-up call which they never heeded. Povilas Lukšys increased Metalurgs’ misery with just ten minutes of the match remaining and to leave their dispirited opponents with it all to do in the second leg. Despite the deficit things started promisingly for Metalurgs in the return fixture when Oskars Kļava put the home team ahead after 17 minutes to reduce the aggregate score to 3-1. The Lithuanians, however, would not just roll over and allow the 2007 Baltic League champions to come back easily. Instead their defence stifled attack after attack and with only ten minutes of the game remaining equalized to put things beyong reasonable doubt thanks to prolific striker Povilas Lukšys. Metalurgs did score a consolation in stoppage time through Genādijs Soloņicins but, by then, the damage was already done. FK Sūduva triumphed 4-1 on aggregate to qualify for their first Triobet Baltic League final and a meeting with FK Ventspils, both of whom will look to secure a maiden triumph in this competition.

The final takes place on Sunday, July 4th at a venue yet to be decided by the tournament organizers.

Triobet Baltic League: Semi-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 25, 2010
Flora Tallinn

Flora Tallinn are the first Estonian club to reach the semi-finals of the Triobet Baltic League

The Triobet Baltic League resumes on Wednesday night with the semi-final first leg matches and, if results go to form, there is still the possibility of a repeat of the first ever final between FK Ventspils and Liepājas Metalurgs which was played in 2007. Many neutrals though will be hoping that either FK Sūduva from Lithuania or Flora Tallinn, a first-time semi-final representative for Estonia, can upset the apple cart and reach the final. With the semi-final second legs not due to be played until June 8-9 all teams involved will be hoping to take an advantage into the return fixtures next month.

Flora Tallinn are perhaps the biggest surprise out of the remaining quartet especially as they came from behind to win their quarter-final second leg against Lithuanian league leaders FK Ekranas. With the first leg finishing scoreless the writing seemed to be on the wall for Flora when Vīts Rimkus opened the scoring for FK Ekranas after 51 minutes but the five time A Lyga (Lithuanian league) champions hadn’t reckoned on Flora’s team spirit. Alo Dupikov equalized for the Estonians on 62 minutes and the game was sealed with Valeri Minkenen dispatching a 77th minute penalty to send the Flora players and fans wild. Flora, who are currently joint top of the Estonian Meistriliiga with arch-rivals Levadia, face tough opposition in the form of FK Ventspils who were losing finalists in the inaugural edition of this competition in 2007. After a couple of recent slip-ups in the Latvian Virslīga and knocked out of the Latvian Cup at the quarter-final stage, FK Ventspils are determined to get their hands on this trophy and coach Nunzio Zavettieri’s troops have home advantage in the first leg on Wednesday and will hope to make the most of it.

FK Ventspils - Liepajas Metalurgs

Will FK Ventspils and Liepājas Metalurgs face each other again in the Triobet Baltic League final?

Liepājas Metalurgs were the inaugural champions of this tournament back in 2007 but were surprisingly knocked out  by compatriots FK Rīga in the following year’s competition. German coach Rüdiger Abramczik will be quietly confident that his team can get a result in the first leg in the southern Lithuanian town of Marijampolė as his team are well rested having last played ten days ago. However FK Sūduva’s most recent domestic match saw them hit FK Klaipėda for six and they lie in third place in the A Lyga with just four points separating them from joint leaders Žalgiris Vilnius and FK Ekranas. In the quarter-final stage of the Baltic League both teams had tough hurdles in front of them but managed to get over them in the end. In an all-Latvian quarter-final Liepājas Metalurgs secured a pair of narrow 1-0 victories against a Skonto Riga side who, under new coach Alexsandrs Starkovs, wanted to go one better in this competition than in 2008 when they were losing finalists. However Oskars Kļava and Vitalijs Kavaliauskas scored in the first and second legs respectively to give Metalurgs a meeting with FK Sūduva who scraped past Estonian champions Levadia Tallinn with a solitary Povilas Lukšys strike being the difference between the two sides over two legs.

TRIOBET BALTIC LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS

1st Leg – May 26th, 2010

FK Ventspils (Latvia) v Flora Tallinn (Estonia)

Liepājas Metalurgs (Latvia) v FK Sūduva (Lithuania)

2nd Leg – June 8th, 2010

Flora Tallinn v FK Ventspils

2nd Leg – June 9th, 2010

FK Sūduva v Liepājas Metalurgs

Triobet Baltic League: Semi-Final Quartet Decided (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 5, 2010
Sergey Shumilin

Sergey Shumilin was crucial to FK Ventspils' progression to the semi-finals

The quarter-final second legs of the Triobet Baltic League, the cross-border competition in the Baltic States, have been completed today and it’s going to be an interesting final four. There’s still the possibility of an all-Latvian final as that country’s two remaining clubs have been kept apart in the draw. Hoping to stop them will be the one sole Lithuanian representative and the first team from Estonia to make it through to this stage of the competition. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” reviews the latest developments in the tournament.

Last season’s losing finalists Skonto Riga have endured a pretty tough week in cup competitions after their compatriots FHK Liepājas Metalurgs completed a 2-0 aggregate win over their arch-rivals from the Latvian capital. Skonto, who were surprisingly eliminated from the Latvian Cup last week by newly-promoted FK Jelgava, went down to a 58th minute Oskars Kļava goal in the 1-0 first leg defeat on the Baltic coastal town of Liepāja. However Skonto were playing with many of the team that had started off the domestic league season with a 100% record after four games so were confident of overturning the deficit. Sadly, for Riga’s finest, the luck just wasn’t with them. First they had an Andrejs Perepletkins goal disallowed in the 16th minute as the ball had gone out of play before the cross was turned home and then, just eight minutes later, Metalurgs took the lead after Lithuanian striker Vitalijus Kavaliauskas struck from close range after a penalty box scramble. Metalurgs would hold out comfortably for the win and now the club are hoping to win their second Triobet Baltic League title after clinching the inaugural competition in 2007. You can watch video highlights of Skonto FC – Liepājas Metalurgs here:

With two teams in the last eight of the competition Estonian hopes of progressing in the tournament rested on the Tallinn duo of FC Levadia and FC Flora. The former, who have won the last four Estonian league titles, held out against Lithuanian side FK Sūduva to a goalless draw in the first leg on away ground so were quietly optimistic of achieving a result in the home leg played on Tuesday. Alas it was Povilas Lukšys who would kill off Levadia’s dream by scoring a crucial away goal in the 36th minute of the match and the Lithuanians progressed through by a slender one goal aggregate margin.

FC Flora had to fight all the way in their quarter-final against Lithuanian champions FK Ekranas Panevėžys with goals hard to come by throughout the contest. After the first leg in Tallinn remained goalless there seemed to be a strong possibility of the same outcome affecting the second leg. The breakthrough came after 52 minutes when veteran Latvian striker Vīts Rimkus gave FK Ekranas the lead. Flora came back in fine fashion just ten minutes later when substitute Alo Dupikov restored parity for the visitors and this was followed by Finnish midfielder Valeri Minkenen securing the victory via the penalty spot with just thirteen minutes remaining to turn the match on its head. The home side, now down to ten men through the red card shown to goalkeeper Vytautas Černiauskas for the penalty decision, didn’t have enough time to come back and FC Flora created history for Estonian football by becoming the country’s first semi-finalist in Triobet Baltic League history.

In the final match of the round FK Ventspils went through to the semi-finals with a 3-1 aggregate win over FK Vėtra Vilnius thanks mainly to the striking prowess of young Russian striker Sergei Shumilin who netted twice in the tie. Shumilin, who joined the club in April from PFC CSKA Moscow, scored the winner in the 2-1 first leg in the Lithuanian capital before sealing the deal with the only goal of the second leg at home.

TRIOBET BALTIC LEAGUE SEMI-FINAL DRAW

FK Sūduva v Liepājas Metalurgs

(1st Leg May 26; 2nd Leg June 8th)

FK Ventspils v FC Flora Tallinn

(1st Leg May 25; 2nd Leg June 9th)

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

Triobet Baltic League resumes after winter break

Posted in European Football by peterbein on April 4, 2010
FBK Kaunas

FBK Kaunas won the 2008 Triobet Baltic League beating Skonto Riga 2-1 in the final. Who will win the 2009-10 competition?

The Triobet Baltic League (TBL), a cross-border competition for teams from the Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), resumes this week at the quarter-final stage of the competition. In comparison to the previous two editions that took place there is a more even spread of teams at this stage, geographically speaking, with Latvia and Lithuania having three teams left in the competition whilst Estonia, who had no teams involved in the last eight of the previous two tournaments, has two teams remaining in the competition. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” charts you through the short history of this tournament and will preview the quarter-final fixtures.

The original idea for this tournament came in 2006 after the only edition of the Baltic Champions’ Cup was played involving the champions from the individual Baltic domestic leagues in 2005. Lithuanian team FK Ekranas won the tournament on goal difference from Latvian champions Liepājas Metalurgs with Estonians TVMK Tallinn losing both their games. At this time the Scandinavian Royal League was also active with teams from Denmark, Sweden and Norway taking part and provided further inspiration for what was to become the Baltic League in its inaugural competition in 2007. Ironically the Baltic League has continued to thrive, especially under the sponsorship of betting firm Triobet (hence the tournament name), whilst the Royal League has been inactive since 2006-07 due to financial problems, scheduling issues and a lack of interest from supporters.

Perhaps the perceived lack of strength in depth in each of the individual football leagues in the Baltic region has whet the fans’ appetite for a Baltic league. Another factor could be the continuing success of basketball’s equivalent Baltic League (BBL) showing their footballing counterparts how a tournament of this nature can work. In the first edition of this competition Latvian clubs dominated with the inaugural TBL final being an all-Latvian affair between arch-rivals Liepājas Metalurgs and FK Ventspils with the former winning the two-legged final 8-2 on aggregate. In 2008 a record 7,000 crowd saw Lithuanian side FBK Kaunas win the second edition of the competition defeating Latvian record champions Skonto Riga 2-1 in a showpiece one game final played at Skonto Stadium.

The format has changed for the third edition of this tournament with the UEFA Champions League style group stages gone and replaced by a straight knock-out system involving the top sixteen teams in the region. Each nation is given five automatic places into the competition and then the country of the previous tournament’s winning club gets a sixth participant (hence Lithuania began this tournament with six teams). FK Vėtra Vilnius were given a bye into the quarter-final stage due to the expulsion from the tournament of FC Dinaburg, the Daugavpils based club having been involved in allegations of match fixing. The 2008 TBL champions FBK Kaunas also had no place in the 2009-10 edition due to their enforced relegation to the Lithuanian third division meaning that their place was taken by 7th placed FK Šiauliai. The new format seems to appeal to fans and sponsors with each round being a two-legged affair up until the final which will be a one-off game, the host venue for which will be decided later in the tournament.

The first two quarter-final, 1st leg matches take place on Tuesday with teams from differing nations facing up to each other. Flora Tallinn, joint-record champions of Estonia, play at home against FK Ekranas with both teams in winning form in their domestic leagues. Flora are just two points behind Meistriliiga leaders Levadia Tallinn and have won four of their six league games so far. FK Ekranas have won both of their opening games in Lithuania’s A Lyga including Saturday’s 2-0 defeat of FK Mažeikiai. In the other Tuesday night game Lithuanians FK Vėtra Vilnius, who have two wins from three games in their domestic league, plays against Latvian team FK Ventspils whose experiences in the 2009-10 UEFA Europa League group stage will stand them in good stead. With the new Latvian league season not starting until this Saturday FK Ventspils are a little out of match practice so this may give the Lithuanians a slight advantage.

Wednesday sees the tie of the round between current Latvian champions Liepājas Metalurgs and record Latvian champions Skonto Riga take place with the former hosting the first leg. There has been a rivalry between these two teams since Metalurgs became the first team to stop Skonto’s record of fourteen consecutive national championships in 2005 and games between these two giants of the Latvian game seldom disappoint. The fourth quarter-final is between Estonian champions FC Levadia Tallinn and FK Sūduva from Lithuania both of whom are unbeaten so far in their domestic leagues. FC Levadia beat their local rivals Flora 2-1 in Saturday’s derby match whilst FK Sūduva’s 0-0 draw at home to Žalgiris Vilnius allowed them to share top spot with FK Vėtra and FK Taurus, all of whom have seven points from nine after three matches.

TRIOBET BALTIC LEAGUE QUARTER-FINALS (teams on left at home first)

FC Flora Tallinn (Estonia) v FK Ekranas (Lithuania)

FK Vetra Vilnius (Lithuania) v FK Ventspils (Latvia)

1st Leg 05/04/2010; 2nd Leg 05/05/2010

FHK Liepājas Metalurgs (Latvia) v Skonto Riga (Latvia)

FC Levadia Tallinn (Estonia) v FK Sūduva (Lithuania)

1st Leg 06/04/2010; 2nd Leg 04/05/2010

As an added bonus check out the goals from the 2008 Triobet Baltic League final here: