Something odd happened on Tuesday – FK Ventspils lost a Latvian league game.
The 2-0 defeat at FK Liepāja was Ventspil's first Virsliga reverse since a 3-0 loss at Skonto FC on 27 April 2013, a 34-game run. Ventspils had won all 12 previous league fixtures in the 2014 season, part of a 17-match winning streak in their long unbeaten spell, which brought a fifth league title last year and has left them still eight points clear of Liepāja despite this week's result.
No team had kept a clean sheet against Ventspils in nine months, but coach Jurģis Pučinskas is not bothered at the end of those runs. "Of course, it's nice when you win, and it's even nicer when you win during the long period,” Pučinskas told UEFA.com. "But it's not records I care about, rather the quality of our football. Statistics are for fans and journalists, not for me."
Pučinskas does set high standards, though, and Ventspils have already lost the chance to repeat their 2013 domestic double, falling 2-1 to FC Daugava Daugavpils in the Latvian Cup quarter-finals. And while their sequences of 17 straight league wins and 34 without defeat are club records, they have some way to go to equal the all-conquering Skonto side of the 1990s, who at one stage were not beaten for 58 games stretching over four seasons, a mark perhaps impossible to overcome since the Latvian First Division is much more competitive now.
So how, in that environment, have Ventspils managed to be so dominant. Sporting director Andrey Butrik believes it is not only about players and tactics but also the club's philosophy. "The great work of the players and coaching stuff goes without saying," he said. "But the main factor is club's spirit. At Ventspils we treat each other really respectfully. Trust is a formula for success in any sphere, and it helps Ventspils win."
Pučinskas agrees yet emphasises that the players also must act properly on the pitch, know their roles and do all the coach asks of them. "My priority is speed and movement," the 41-year-old, appointed in 2012 after a spell in charge of the reserves, said. "You can't win without them, so we work on them in every training session. And also patience is important. It happens sometimes during a match that everything goes wrong but you have to wait for your chance. It always comes and you must not miss it."
The former Latvia midfielder added, looking ahead to the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round next month: "There are no easy games for us. Yes, we can win by a large margin but still it's difficult. You need maximum concentration if you want to win. We were not focused at Liepāja, and as a result all our records ended. We must not allow that in the UEFA Champions League. UEFA tournaments are another level of responsibility. If we relax like at Liepāja, they will bring us back to earth in Europe."
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