One of Latvia's most celebrated players, Māris Verpakovskis has come to the aid of football fans in his home town, stepping into the breach as president of newly-formed FK Liepāja.
Sponsored by a local metalworks who went bankrupt this winter, two-time champions SK Liepājas Metalurgs were forced to resign from the Virsliga, leaving one of the nation's footballing hotbeds without a team. However, the local authorities stepped in to found the new club to fill the gap and persuaded 34-year-old Verpakovskis – who had been playing in Greece for Ergotelis FC – to come back home and become its first president.
"How could I pass by in this very difficult situation?" said the 103-times capped former FC Dynamo Kyiv, Getafe CF, HNK Hajduk Split and RC Celta de Vigo forward. "Firstly, we should say thanks to the new city leaders and to our players. I am happy that together we have saved football in Liepaja, where football has always been popular." A 2-1 win against FS Metta/LU in the first game of the season at the weekend represented an encouraging start for the new side.
The most stable club in Latvia, the new team's regional rivals FK Ventspils had a much quieter off season. Coach Jurgis Pučinskas's charges replaced the key players they lost in the winter, a confident 2-0 opening-day victory against FK Daugava Rīga a measure of their ambition. "We want to achieve the maximum again," club president Guntis Blumbergs told UEFA.com. "We will do all we can for Champions League success too. It is important that everybody shares this winning attitude."
Outpaced in the title race by Ventspils last season, Skonto FC are out for revenge this time out. Tamaz Pertia's men have lost Latvian internationals Alans Sinelnikovs, Renārs Rode and Nauris Bulvītis, as well as the experienced Artūrs Karašauskis, since the end of last season, but with Turkmenistani midfielder Ruslan Mingazov back for another season in Riga, they look the most plausible pretenders to Ventspils' throne.
Under new Russian coach Viktor Demidov, FC Daugava are eager to improve on their bronze-medal finish last season, while Daugava Rīga's new Lithuanian boss Arvidas Skrupskis should be competing for medals too. FK Jelgava, meanwhile, top the table after one game following a 3-1 victory against FK Jūrmala, new arrival Vladislavs Kozlovs scoring the first hat-trick of the nascent campaign.
Jūrmala, METTA/LU and newcomers BFC Daugavpils are already being earmarked for a relegation battle, but the latter do not lack ambition under Kirill Kurbatov. A 1-0 triumph against FK Spartaks Jūrmala in their opening fixture has encouraged them. "We want to become the main team in Daugavpils instead of the more experienced Daugava," Kurbatov said. "It is a difficult task, but we are young and hungry for success."
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