Skonto FC coach Paul Ashworth is determined to persevere with the Baltic League, now in its second edition, saying "this is not a second-tier tournament".
The first edition of the tournament for the best teams in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia ended up being a stroll for the Virsliga clubs, with SK Liepajas Metalurgs beating their rivals from the Kurzeme region, FK Ventspils, in the decider. However, with Ventspils saving their best players for league action, the two-legged final failed to provide much tension as Metalurgs won 8-2 on aggregate.
'Give it a try'
Certain problems persist in the competition's second season, with some sides fielding reserve teams, games being played on artificial surfaces and fans yet to warm to the tournament. Still, Ashworth remains optimistic. "The Baltic League is not a second-tier tournament," he said. "We cannot abandon it after just one year. It needs at least five years, so let's give it a try."
Metalurgs have gone into the competition with a positive attitude, with coach Jurijs Andrejevs saying: "We won it in 2007 and we want to please our fans again this time around, so we are not going to field reserves." Ventspils tactician Roman Grigorchuk is not of the same opinion, however, and having fielded second-string lineups while challenging for the title last season, plans to do so again in 2008.
"I think this time the tournament will be even less interesting than the first one," he said. "The organisers need to keep the clubs interested and financial matters play a major part in doing that. I can't really think of any other way to improve the situation. Still, I think the Baltic League is a useful tournament which can help young players to gain experience."
FK Rīga are sounding positive, meanwhile, as they make their debut in the competition under Gennadi Morozov. "I'm an ex-player myself, so I have only one goal - to win," explained the new coach. "It is the same for Rīga. I don't think that the Baltic League is an inferior tournament. It allows Latvian clubs to prove their ability against the other Baltic teams."
Having finished fourth in the table in 2007 - their worst performance since independence - Skonto arguably have bigger things to worry about than the Baltic Cup, but Ashworth is adamant that the competition is worth fighting for. "The Baltic League for me is as important as the Latvian Cup. I can't single out one of the two; it's a 50/50 situation."
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