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Season review: Latvia

Published: Monday 8 November 2010, 15.28CET
The return of Aleksandrs Starkovs as coach inspired Skonto FC to claim their first title since their European-record run of 14 straight championships ended in 2004, losing only twice in 27 games.
by Mikhail Korolev
from Riga
Season review: Latvia
Skonto have had a season to celebrate ©Roman Koksharov
Published: Monday 8 November 2010, 15.28CET

Season review: Latvia

The return of Aleksandrs Starkovs as coach inspired Skonto FC to claim their first title since their European-record run of 14 straight championships ended in 2004, losing only twice in 27 games.

Six years on from their European record run of 14 league championships in a row, Skonto FC secured the Latvian title after the return of the coach that masterminded their previous success, Aleksandrs Starkovs.

Champions: Skonto FC
Having monopolised the Virsliga crown in the first 14 post-independence seasons, Skonto were deposed in 2005 and had not regained it since until this year. However, in January, Starkovs – in charge from 1993 until leaving for FC Spartak Moskva in 2004 – was reappointed and with only two defeats in 27 matches, Skonto finished six points clear of FK Ventspils, having been confirmed as champions with a game to spare.

Cup final: FK Jelgava 2-2 FK Jūrmala 2-2 (6-5 pens)
Jelgava began the 2009/10 Latvian Cup as a second-tier team but after winning promotion, the top-flight debutants went on to take a first major trophy after a thrilling final, goalkeeper Marks Bogdanovs making three shoot-out saves. They earned a European debut but although FK Molde knocked them out of the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round on away goals, their 2-1 home win was the only victory achieved in UEFA competition by a Latvian side in 2010/11.

European places*
FC Skonto - UEFA Champions League qualifying
FK Ventspils - UEFA Europa League qualifying
SK Liepājas Metalurgs - UEFA Europa League qualifying

*Exact rounds and entry subject to final confirmation from UEFA, Latvian Cup winners next spring will also play in UEFA Europa League qualifying

Surprise package: FC Daugava Daugavpils
Promoted Daugava were tipped to struggle and began poorly only to then begin a four-month unbeaten run that almost took them to the top three and a European place. They were the only team to win away at Skonto on their way to a club-record 56 points. Moroever, they conceded as few goals as the champions; just 16, though tellingly they scored 51 less than Starkovs' men.

Player of the year: Jurijs Žigajevs (FK Ventspils)
Latvia's official player of the season award is announced at the end of the year, with Žigajevs a strong contender for the prize. The winger had the best season of his career and at 24 is already one of his club's most experienced players. His 15 goals, a personal best, proved the key to keeping his team in the title race.

One to watch: Deniss Rakeļs (SK Liepājas Metalurgs)
The young striker had already made a mark in 2009 but it was this year that Rakels, 18, truly blossomed. Every one of his joint league-leading 18 goals came from open play and he showed great all-round ability as well as finishing prowess.

Leading scorers: Deniss Rakeļs (SK Liepājas Metalurgs), Junior Carvalho (Skonto FC) 18

Relegated: FK Jaunība Rīga, FC Tranzīt Ventspils*

Promoted: FB Gulbene-2005, FC Jūrmala

*Withdrew from play-off against 1. Liga runners-up FC Jūrmala

Number: 70
Skonto's goal difference following the 27-game campaign.

Quote: "Anyof the top four teams could have finished top. Everything was decided by details, small things. We got those details right a bit more consistently, so over the whole year we came out a bit better than our rivals."
Skonto coach Starkovs

Last updated: 04/01/11 3.08CET

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