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'United' Latvia plan upset

Latvia have a tough task against Italy, hosts Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in qualifying round Group 6 but coach Artūrs Šketovs thinks his side's "unity" could lead to an upset.

Latvia coach Artūrs Šketovs
Latvia coach Artūrs Šketovs ©LFF

Latvian futsal has been improving steadily for many years and now national coach Artūrs Šketovs is keen for his team to move up another level.

Last month his squad progressed from the UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 preliminary round, beating Iceland, Armenia and Greece, to emulate their feat of two years ago in reaching the main qualifying phase. It will be much harder against former champions Italy, hosts Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in qualifying round Group 6 from Thursday – but Šketovs believes his team's stability and unity could help engineer an upset.

UEFA.com: Now you have the challenge of the tournament in Slovenia, which will be tougher than the last round ...

Artūrs Šketovs: Of course. We have Italy in our group, one of Europe's big hitters. Slovenia are also dangerous and they are at home too. We have already defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it is clear they are no underdogs. But we do not intend to give up. We will set the highest goals and to try to qualify for the next stage. Nothing is impossible. We can play against any team – remember, there was only a small difference [in 2010 qualifying] between Latvia and the Czech Republic, who finished third at the finals.

UEFA.com: Can the Latvian national football team learn something from your side?

Šketovs: No, that's a bit premature. Rather, I use our football team as an example to my boys. The Latvian football team achieved a miracle when they qualified for the [2004] UEFA European Championship in Portugal. It was a real achievement. We need to have the same ambition. If they can do it, why can't we?

UEFA.com: Is it already a big success for Latvia to get to the qualifying round?

Šketovs: Definitely. We had quality opponents in our group in the form of Greece, Armenia and Iceland. It was a serious achievement to take maximum points and claim first place in such company. We thought Greece were the favourites but they finished third, which says it all about the strong competition.

UEFA.com: Were you not surprised, though, that your team managed to win all three matches?

Šketovs: To tell the truth, I was not really surprised. We tried to win every game – even our last match against Armenia, when we were already through. We had an additional boost that day as Aleksandrs Žukovs celebrated his 30th birthday.

UEFA.com: What is the secret of your side's success?

Šketovs: We played as a team and our strength lies in unity. We have experience in our squad, some of the lads have been playing together for ten years. We were ready for any eventuality, so it was hard to surprise us. Even Dmitrijs Dobrovoļskis's injury during the warm-up for our first match did not affect us.

UEFA.com: Can you single out individuals or did everyone play their part?

Šketovs: Exactly. There were different players taking responsibility in different games. For example, Dmitrijs Jakovļevs scored some important goals to become our leading goalscorer. It was not just his achievement, though, but that of his team-mates.

UEFA.com: Is it fair to say Latvian futsal is now at a decent level?

Šketovs: That is a hard question. We have three strong clubs fighting for the domestic title. We also have several players who are playing abroad and with them we have a competitive national squad. At the same time, we do not have professional futsal clubs in Latvia. When we get them, we will be more successful on the international stage.

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