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Season review: Latvia

Published: Monday 14 November 2011, 12.23CET
It was a season to remember for coach Sergei Podpali, whose FK Ventpils side held off the challenge of SK Liepājas Metalurgs to claim the league and cup double in his first season in charge.
by Mikhail Korolev
from Riga
Season review: Latvia
Ventspils celebrate a memorable season for the club in which they won the league and cup double ©Roman Koksharov
Published: Monday 14 November 2011, 12.23CET

Season review: Latvia

It was a season to remember for coach Sergei Podpali, whose FK Ventpils side held off the challenge of SK Liepājas Metalurgs to claim the league and cup double in his first season in charge.

Sergei Podpali guided FK Ventpils to the league and cup double in his first season in charge of the club. They won their first piece of silverware with a comfortable victory in the cup final against rivals SK Liepājas Metalurgs before sealing the title, and a UEFA Champions League berth, on the final day of the season with a 0-0 draw against reigning champions FC Skonto.

Champions: FK Ventspils
No-one would have predicted that Sergei Podpali would win both the league and cup in his first season in charge, although Ventspils had to wait until the final day of the season to claim the title courtesy of a goalless draw against defending champions Skonto FC. "Everyone at the club did a great job and I am very happy that we can remind our fans, and the whole city, what it is like to be champions," said the 48-year-old Russian coach, whose side suffered the fewest number of defeats (five), scored the most goals (75) and conceded the least (19) in the top flight. "This was hardly possible to imagine early in the season when we started to create the team anew. We need to start thinking how to become stronger next season and must prove our double was no fluke," Podpali said. "Now the UEFA Champions League is looming."

Cup final: FK Ventspils 3-1 SK Liepājas Metalurgs
Ventspils claimed their fifth Latvian Cup midway through the season thanks to a pair of Ahmed Abdultaofik goals against rivals Metalurgs at Skonto Stadium in Riga. "These are fantastic emotions," said Podpali. "I'm happy for my players as some of them have never won major trophies before."

European places*
FK Ventspils – UEFA Champions League qualifying
SK Liepājas Metalurgs – UEFA Europa League qualifying
FC Daugava Daugavpils – UEFA Europa League qualifying
Cup winner** – UEFA Europa League qualifying

*Exact rounds and entry subject to final confirmation from UEFA
**Depending on 2012 Latvian Cup results, with the final set for spring

Player of the year: Oļegs Laizāns (FK Ventspils)
One of Latvia's most gifted players was revitalised in his first season at Ventspils and made his international debut in an August friendly against Finland. It is now hard to picture Latvia's midfield without the 24-year-old, who was singled out by coach Podpali for his tremendous performances in their double-winning season.

One to watch: Valērijs Šabala (Skonto FC)
The 17-year-old striker started the season at JFK Olimps/RFS, but moved to Skonto where he immediately made a name for himself. Šabala scored eight goals throughout the campaign and, despite his age, is on the verge of breaking into Latvia's Under-21 side.

Surprise package: FC Daugava Daugavpils
Tamaz Pertia started the season in charge at Daugava before being replaced by Leonid Nazarenko in summer, but this did not deter the title hopefuls from maintaining their challenge until the final rounds. The team from Latgale failed to get the necessary results for a top-two finish but held on to third spot to leave reigning champions Skonto out of the medal positions.

Number: 15
The number of years Daugava spent without a top-three finish. In 1997 Dinaburg won the bronze medal and the successor club repeated that feat this year.

Leading scorer: Nathan Junior (Skonto FC) 22

Relegated: JFK Olimps/RFS (SK Blāzma withdrew before season began)

Promoted: FS Metta/LU, JPFS/Spartaks

"When I took the reigns at Ventspils in early 2011 many of my friends wondered why I was going to Latvia. Now they congratulate me for winning a title and feel a bit envious because we're going to play in the UEFA Champions League. After all, I came to Latvia for a reason."
Ventspils coach Sergei Podpali

Last updated: 19/01/12 12.31CET

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