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Latvian football survives setbacks

Published: Tuesday 5 January 2010, 11.52CET
Latvia's long footballing history dates back to 1906 and the first recorded match in Riga.
Latvian football survives setbacks
Latvia celebrate after their goalless draw with Germany at UEFA EURO 2004 ©AFP
Published: Tuesday 5 January 2010, 11.52CET

Latvian football survives setbacks

Latvia's long footballing history dates back to 1906 and the first recorded match in Riga.

Football has been played in Latvia since the start of the 20th century. The first recorded match took place in 1906 during a sports festival held in Riga by the local Keizarmežs sporting union.

The first football clubs were established in 1907 and 1908 by British and German expatriates in the capital, while the first Latvian club in Riga, Amatieris, were formed in 1910. The game became popular in Liepaja too, where FC Olimpija were founded in 1909. By February 1910 the conditions were right for a Riga Football League to be created, and this body ran competitions between 1910 and 1915.

Latvia gained independence after the First World War, and in June 1921 the Latvian Football Union (Latvijas Futbola Savieniba – LFS) was set up. The LFS organised a national championship until 1927, when the Virslīga (Premier League) came into being. However, a national cup competition, the Latvia Cup, was only instituted ten years later, with 78 teams participating.

Latvia became a member of FIFA in 1922. The national side's first match was a friendly against Estonia that year, which ended in a 1-1 draw. The side then took part in the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924. Four years later, the LFF proposed instituting a Baltic Cup for the national teams of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The first such tournament was staged in Tallinn, Estonia, that same year, and won by Latvia. The nation's footballers also appeared in the 1938 FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament, winning twice against Lithuania but losing their decisive game to Austria.

After Latvia was occupied by the USSR in 1940 almost all football clubs were disbanded. The next year, however, a Soviet Latvia championship was initiated … yet almost immediately interrupted as Germany declared war on the USSR. During the resulting German occupation from 1942 to 1944, teams played in the Latvian championship using their old names. However, the 1944 season had to be halted because of a Red Army offensive, and soon Latvia was again incorporated into the USSR.

Between 1945 and 1991 the championship of Soviet Latvia was a feature of the country's sporting calendar. The formula of the competition changed several times until the A Klase was founded in 1963. As many as three Latvian clubs would also be involved each year in the championship of the USSR. With Latvia regaining independence in August 1991, the newly established Latvian Football Federation (Latvijas Futbola Federäcija – LFF) decided to reorganise its competitions within the Virslīga from 1992. The same year Latvia became a member of UEFA.

However, it was the national side's success in reaching the 2004 UEFA European Championship final round that earned widespread recognition for Latvian soccer. A squad coached by Aleksandrs Starkovs and featuring players such as Māris Verpakovskis, Aleksandrs Koļinko, Marians Pahars and Igors Stepanovs not only outlasted Poland and Hungary in their qualifying group to finish second behind Sweden; they then defeated Turkey 3-2 on aggregate in a play-off to get to Portugal. Although the team proved unable to win a group-stage game at UEFA EURO 2004, their achievements had put Latvia firmly on the footballing map.

Last updated: 12/03/14 16.15CET

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