The official website for European football

Season review: Latvia

Published: Tuesday 18 November 2014, 10.45CET
FK Ventspils won a third Latvian title in four seasons, Māris Verpakovskis rode to the rescue of his home-town club and former Latvia captain Vitālijs Astafjevs impressed as a coach.
by Mihail Korolev
from Riga
Season review: Latvia
Ventspils celebrate their title triumph ©Roman Koksharov
Published: Tuesday 18 November 2014, 10.45CET

Season review: Latvia

FK Ventspils won a third Latvian title in four seasons, Māris Verpakovskis rode to the rescue of his home-town club and former Latvia captain Vitālijs Astafjevs impressed as a coach.

FK Ventspils retained their Latvian First Division crown, while FK Jelgava were domestic cup winners in 2014.

Champions: FK Ventspils
Ventspils started the season in style, winning 12 on the bounce and extending their unbeaten streak from last term to 34 matches – both club records. It was not all plain sailing, however, for a six-game winless run followed. Jurģis Pučinskis's team soon recovered, though, and ended the campaign 13 fixtures undefeated, culminating in a 4-2 title-clinching victory at nearest rivals Skonto FC in their third-last match.

With the most wins (26), fewest losses (5) and just 20 goals conceded, they were worthy champions. "There's really not much to say," said Pučinskis. "We are really happy – the team did what we had to do."

Cup final: FK Jelgava 0-0 Skonto FC (Jelgava win 5-3 on penalties)
Though Skonto coach Tamaz Pertia came close to claiming his first trophy with the Riga club, Jelgava stood firm for 120 minutes before prevailing in the shoot-out, Boriss Bogdaškins converting the decisive spot kick. "We felt the whole city behind us and we were eager not to let the fans down," said then Jelgava coach Vladimirs Beškarevs.

European places*
FK Ventspils – UEFA Champions League second qualifying round
Skonto FC – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
FK Jelgava – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
2015 Latvian Cup winners – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round

*subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Kaspars Dubra (FK Ventspils)
The Ventspils defender gets our nod for the second year running; he had stiff competition last term, but was head and shoulders above the rest this time around. Not only is he powerful and skilled defensively, the 23-year-old centre-back was also ever-present for all 39 of his side's domestic assignments. Dubra was rewarded with a national team call-up and quickly established himself alongside Kaspars Gorkšs.

One to watch: Jānis Ikaunieks (FK Liepāja)
Brothers Dāvis and Jānis Ikaunieks attracted plenty of admirers this season. The younger of the two, 19-year-old midfielder Jānis, confirmed himself as a favourite with the Liepāja fans courtesy of his eye-catching skills, creativity and unorthodox style. He eventually finished as the league's second-highest scorer with 23 goals and featured in Latvia's recent European Qualifiers against Turkey and the Netherlands.

Surprise package: FK Liepāja
When Māris Verpakovskis left his club in Greece abruptly at the beginning of 2014 to return to his home town, he can hardly have expected such success. The 35-year-old player-president can reflect on an impressive campaign that yielded a fourth-placed finish; indeed Liepāja were in title contention until the final straight. "How could I ignore my home-town club in such a difficult situation?" Verpakovskis said. "I am happy that thanks to a collective effort, we saved football in Liepaja."

Leading scorer: Vladislavs Gutkovskis, Skonto FC (28)

Relegated: FC Jūrmala

Promoted: FB Gulbene 2005

Number: 19
Jelgava had not finished in the top three for 19 years before Vitālijs Astafjevs steered them there this term. Considering it was the former Latvia captain's debut season as a coach, a bright future beckons.

Quote
"I am very happy with the bronze medal. Three is my lucky number. It was my number throughout my career and now I came in third place as a coach. I congratulate everyone who cares about Jelgava. This is just the beginning!"
Jelgava coach Vitālijs Astafjevs, who was capped 167 times as Latvia's No3

Last updated: 18/11/14 12.27CET

http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/association=lva/news/newsid=2183942.html#season+review+latvia