Despite a disappointing clutch of results in European competition, Latvian Football Federation (LFF) president Guntis Indriksons can see a silver lining as the nation's youngsters gain valuable experience on the continental stage.
Last season fans in Latvia were entertained until December by the exploits of FK Ventspils after they qualified for the UEFA Europa League group stage, but this term all their representatives have failed to survive beyond July. Admittedly, SK Liepājas Metalurgs' defeat by AC Sparta Praha in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round did not come as a surprise, with the 5-0 aggregate scoreline bearing out coach Rüdiger Abramczik's pre-match fear that his side were firm underdogs.
However, it was the failure of Skonto FC and Ventspils to progress in the UEFA Europe League that caused most consternation. "I have never been shocked like this," said Skonto coach Aleksandrs Starkovs, whose team lost to Northern Ireland's Portadown FC, while Ventspils counterpart Nunzio Zavettieri rued his squad's preparation after being knocked out by European debutants FK Teteks from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. "It's a severe blow," he said. "We knew nothing about Teteks and once we realised what kind of team they were, it was already too late."
It fell to unsung FK Jelgava to produce the only win from any of Latvia's European entrants, though even that was not enough to upset Molde FK after a 2-1 home victory combined with a 1-0 loss in Norway. "Player quality decided everything," said coach Dainis Kazakevičs. Yet Indriksons was philosophical about the disappointments. "I understand that supporters and journalists are upset," he said. "It's not a disaster, but the true level of our clubs at the moment.
"Jelgava deserve praise," the LFF president continued. "They got the best result and there's some logic in that. They have more experienced players and, because they had the motivation of being European debutants, they achieved something." Indeed, far from endorsing the pessimistic mood, Indriksons is looking forward to a bright future in Latvian football. "First, we have to be happy that we still have clubs to cherish. Second, there are lots of local youngsters playing who are the future of our national team. We need a year or two for them to mature and then we'll get some success at European level."
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