Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

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.

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Europe: Flora and Ekranas still unbeaten; FKV lose again (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on June 27, 2011

Baltic flagsThe various football leagues in the Baltic States are approaching the halfway stages of the 2011 campaign. Defending champions Flora Tallinn and FK Ekranas still remain unbeaten at the top of the Estonian Meistriliiga and Lithuanian A Lyga respectively whilst Latvia’s Virsliga saw leaders FK Ventspils lose for a second time in less than a week.

Eight times Estonian champions Flora Tallinn are threatening to run away with the Meistriliiga as they currently hold a seven point advantage over joint second place club JK Nõmme Kalju having played one game less. The defending title holders don’t quite have the league’s best attack although they have scored just two goals fewer than Kalju and local rivals Levadia Tallinn (32 each) but what the league leaders possess is the league’s tightest defence having only shipped in five goals so far, averaging at one goal conceded every five games. The league leaders have gone through something of a mini-break ahead of oncoming UEFA Competition as they haven’t played a competitive league game since June 14th when they defeated Sillamäe Kalev 1-0. However they face off against 2nd place Nõmme Kalju this Sunday in a game which could see Flora go virtually out of sight at the top of the table.

FK Ekranas, champions for the last three years in Lithuania, currently lead the A Lyga by four points and are, like their Estonian counterparts Flora, still unbeaten after fifteen games. Unlike the Estonian championship, however, Lithuania’s top flight doesn’t quite feel like a one-horse race just yet as FK Sūduva and FK Žalgiris Vilnius are hanging on their coat tails. All of the top three teams won away from home by the same 1-0 score line this weekend; FK Ekranas had Auremis Vertelis to thank for the three points as his 37th minute goal defeated FK Klaipeda whilst Sūduva and Žalgiris also scraped home by a solitary strike against FK Kruoja Pakrujo and FK Banga Gargždai respectively. FK Ekranas currently have 39 points with Sūduva and Žalgiris just four and six points further behind each having played the same number of matches.

Things have become more interesting in Latvia’s LMT Virsliga in the last week. FK Ventspils, who were unbeaten in their first twelve matches of the current campaign with a record of 11 wins and 1 draw, have now suffered back-to-back defeats. Their first loss came away at FK Jelgava on June 22nd with Vladislavs Kozlovs bagging a brace in his side’s 2-0 victory over the league leaders. Ventspils were then made to suffer at home to Liepājas Metalurgs yesterday afternoon in a repeat of the 2010-11 Latvian Cup final which FKV won last month; Lithuanian midfielder Nerijus Valskis, who is currently on loan from FBK Kaunas, scored the only goal in the first sixty seconds of the match to gain a spot of revenge for Metalurgs and whose title challenge has been resurrected in the process. FK Ventspils currently top the table with 34 points from 14 games, three points ahead of Metalurgs who have played a game more. Surprise package Daugava Daugavpils came within sixty seconds of a victory away at defending champions Skonto Riga yesterday but for Deniss Kačanovs’ equalizer in stoppage time which granted Skonto a 1-1 draw. Daugava lie third in the table with the same record as Metalurgs whilst Skonto have just 26 points from 14 games played.

Away Days: Skonto Riga v FK Jaunība Riga

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on November 7, 2010

Sunday, October 30th, 2005: Skonto Riga, fourteen times champions of Latvia with all of those titles won consecutively from 1991-2004 in order to create a world record, have finally been deposed from their number one position. Their opponents on this day are Liepājas Metalurgs who, only the week before, clinched their maiden Latvian league title with four matches left to play such was their domination in that season. It was fitting that my first ever match on my first ever visit to the beautiful Baltic state of Latvia involved the two aforementioned teams and it was this match, a 1-1 draw with much attacking play, that developed my interest in the game in this part of the world. Many people in my home town of Liverpool (and, no doubt, beyond) think that I’m mad for following Latvian football, and Skonto Riga FC in particular, but it is footballing world far removed from the hype and money obsessed world of the English Premier League and it makes a refreshing change to see football so laid-back as it is there.

Following Metalurgs’ 2005 title success came three-in-a-row for FK Ventspils between 2006-08 and then Metalurgs won their second crown in 2009. It was a painful period for Skonto as they saw their two main rivals win most of the silverware but that was now all in the past as there was no doubting the fact that Skonto Riga were the best team in the LMT Virslīga in 2010. After a five year wait I was finally going to see Skonto FC play a match with the status as champions of Latvia and as I went to the stadium with just twenty minutes to go before kick-off I noticed a familiar face outside the ground. It was none other than Latvian football legend Vitālijs Astafjevs, Europe’s most capped international footballer with 165 appearances for his country to date, who will be known to fans of English club Bristol Rovers for whom he graced the club colours for three years before heading back eastwards. If I was surprised to see and be able to talk to Astafjevs then I was more surprised to meet the Skonto FC and Latvia national coach Aleksandrs Starkovs. For anyone without any knowledge of Starkovs he is a true legend of the game both as a player and a coach. His exploits in the latter category have seen him win twelve league titles and six national cups, all with Skonto, and in 2010, his first season back in charge of Latvia’s record champions, he managed to end Skonto’s six year trophy drought.

Before their final home match of the season Skonto FC had scored the most goals in the league (80) and conceded only sixteen goals, which was the second best record in the league. After clinching the title last week Skonto put on a champions performance against FK Jaunība, who were already as good as relegated before the game began. Yesterday’s game showed the gulf in class between the league’s best and worst sides as Skonto completed dominated possession and territory hardly allowing the visitors to leave their own half of the pitch. Despite Skonto’s dominance they went in at half-time with only a two goal lead, Alans Siņelņikovs opened the scoring in the 23rd minute with left foot thunderbolt in the top left corner and Brazilian Nathan Junior doubled the lead with a headed goal on the half-hour mark.

At the half-time break I met some guys from South London who were all Crystal Palace fans except for one whose allegiances lay firmly with Millwall. Not only did we agree in our assumptions about the cozyness and laid-back attitude of Latvian football (they were particulary impressed at having met two ex-Crystal Palace players – Andrejs Rubins and Aleksandrs Koļinko – at the game) but also a mutual loathing at how English football seems to have lost its soul in its dire pursuit of all things financial. We even spoke about the Bundesliga and I was surprised to find out that one of the Palace fans was also a huge Eintracht Frankfurt, a bit like yours truly, so for me it was a great experience talking to them although they had to miss the second half of the game so I’ll let them know that they missed a pretty good last 45 minutes of the Latvian season.

Skonto FC (in blue) dominated the match against local rivals FK Jaunība

After the chat it was back to the footie and the second half continued in much the same vein as the first with chance after chance for Skonto. It didn’t take them too long to score goal number three, Nathan Junior again found the net to keep up his impressive goalscoring record for the season. Following that it took until the final ten minutes of the match for the game to truly come alive as Skonto scored three more times thanks to David Janelidze, Igors Tarasovs and another from Junior whose hat-trick came from the penalty spot. For the Brazilian the match topped off a perfect season in which he was the Virsliga’s joint top-scorer with eighteen goals along with Liepājas Metalurgs’ Deniss Rakels. At the final whistle the small but boistorious Skonto hardcore following “H-Side” gave the team a great send-off showing their appreciation by setting off flares into the Riga sky. This culminates a season in which Skonto won the league with 69 points from 27 matches, six ahead of second place FK Ventspils, and will see Latvia’s finest enter the UEFA Champions League at the 2nd qualifying round next season. For FK Jaunība it’s back down to the Pirma Līga after just one season in Latvia’s top flight.

A convincing win for the champions

Latvia: Skonto Riga win 15th championship (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on October 31, 2010

Skonto RigaIt’s been a long wait for Latvia’s most decorated club but Skonto Riga finally clinched a record extending 15th LMT Virslīga title today following a 2-2 draw at home to nearest challengers FK Ventspils. The point gained meant that Skonto maintain a six point cushion at the top of the table with just one match remaining and for coach Alexsandrs Starkovs signals the beginning of a new era for his beloved club after six years without a major trophy.

With 65 points from 25 games and a six point margin before today’s match kicked off Skonto were already virtually assured of the title. The only way the title would go down to the final week would be if FK Ventspils were to beat their hosts in today’s game. With head-to-head records being used in Latvia for the first time this season, and with both clubs having had one win apiece in their previous two league meetings, it was imperative for FK Ventspils that they win today, reduce the gap at the top to three points and hope that Skonto would lose their final home game next week. But for Skonto only a point was necessary but they earned it the hard way having to come from behind twice.

FK Ventspils gained the initiative as early as the 13th minute when Artūrs Zjuzins gave the vistors the lead and restored hope to the Yellow and Blues that a fourth championship crown might be heading its way back to Latvia’s Baltic coast. However parity was restored with seven first half minutes remaining thanks to Kaspar Dubra. With the game tied at 1-1 at the break it was finely poised for a second half showdown and only the most determined team would make or break this encounter. That team appeared to be FK Ventspils when, in the 53rd minute, Jurijs Žigajevs re-established the lead for FKV and all they had to do was make sure that they kept hold of the advantage. Alas that advantage was lost in the final quarter of the match. In the 74th minute Igors Tarasovs scored Skonto’s second leveller of the day and so the initiative returned to Starkovs’ men who just needed to resist any further attacks from their opponents until the final whistle.

Cue the final whistle and the celebrations could begin for the Latvian capital side. For coach Alexsandrs Starkovs it was a fantastic season back at the helm for the man who guided Skonto to eleven consecutive titles between 1993-2004. In his absence only one further title was added, the 2004 championship under Jurijs Andrejevs, before Englishman Paul Ashworth took over the reins from 2005-2009 in what sadly proved to be a largely unsuccessful period. Having seen arch-rivals Liepājas Metalurgs and FK Ventspils lift the last five championship titles between them it is finally time for Skonto FC to re-capture their glory days and call themselves Latvia’s Number 1 once more.

NOTE: Stoppage Time – International Football Blog will be in Riga next week to see Skonto’s final match of the season against local rivals FK Jaunība, a game you can read about in our Away Days section.

WATCH SKONTO RIGA v FK VENTSPILS HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

 

Baltic States: Skonto increase gap over Ventspils; Leagues Review

Posted in European Football by peterbein on September 12, 2010
Ruslan Mingazov

Ruslan Mingazov scored the decisive goal in Skonto's 1-0 victory over nearest challengers FK Ventspils

The business end of the season is about to begin in each of the Baltic States. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the latest action from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

Skonto Riga took a decisive step towards winning their first LMT Virslīga title since 2004 when defeating FK Ventspils in today’s top of the table clash in Latvia. Turkmenistani international Ruslan Mingazov scored the decisive goal for record champions Skonto in front of a home crowd of 2000 at Skonto Stadions and they now increase the lead at the top of the table over second place Ventspils to six points with nine matches to play. Defending champions Liepājas Metalurgs are just two points further behind after they easily overcame the challenge of FC Tranzīts with goals from Deniss Rakels, Marques De Souza, Pāvels Mihadjuks and Vitālijs Barinovs (own goal) securing a 4-0 win. FC Daugava Daugavpils are still a comfortable fourth place but they will rue two dropped points in an exciting 3-3 draw against Latvian Cup holders FK Jelgava. FC Daugava were coasting with a three goal lead after an hour but Jelgava fought back with Vladislavs Kozlovs scoring a hat-trick with the final two goals coming in the last two minutes of the game. The other two matches on Matchday 18 saw a Riga derby involving JFK/Olimps and FK Jaunība finish in a 2-2 draw whilst FK Jūrmala-VV and SK Blāzma Rēzekne were involved in a goalless stalemate. Now that two-thirds of the season has been played each team plays the other nine in the league one more time with the fixtures being determined by virtue of league placings at this stage, therefore the top five teams have five home games each from their remaining nine matches.

WATCH SKONTO RIGA v FK VENTSPILS HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

Estonia’s Meistriliiga is the tightest out of the three championships at the moment with Tallinn rivals FC Flora and FC Levadia maintaining their challenges for the title with victories over JK Sillamäe Kalev and FC Trans Narva respectively. FC Flora lead the table with 69 points from 27 matches after their 3-0 home defeat of Sillamäe with Hannes Anier bagging a brace which sandwiched Sander Post’s strike on the hour mark. Levadia, champions for the last four seasons, are just two points behind Flora but have played one game more. They kept up the chase on Flora by defeating FC Trans also by a 3-0 scoreline but the match turned on 38 minutes after FC Trans’ Tomas Rimas was sent off with the resulting penalty being converted by Levadia’s Konstantin Nahk. Deniss Malov and Artjom Dmitrijev sealed the game in the second half to keep the title race on a knife edge.

In Lithuania’s A Lyga the league leadership changed hands this weekend. FK Sūduva were the leaders going into Matchday 20 but they were surprisingly beaten 2-1 at home to FK Kruoja Pakruojis and they made to pay for this mishap as FK Ekranas took full advantage on Sunday with a 5-0 win at home to FK Klaipėda with Dominykas Galkevičius scoring a hat-trick for the new league leaders. FK Ekranas have 48 points from 20 games with FK Sūduva trailing them by two points. FK Žalgiris Vilnius, who didn’t play this weekend, are a further five points behind but have a game in hand.

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.   

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