Thrills and spills await Ventspils

Latvian champions FK Ventspils will embark upon the biggest adventure of their ten-year history as they make their UEFA Champions League debut tonight.

Latvian champions FK Ventspils will embark upon the biggest adventure of their ten-year history as they make their UEFA Champions League debut tonight.

First taste
Having won their first domestic league title in 2006, European dreams will come true for Ventspils as they take to the pitch at Latham Park in Newtown for their first taste of UEFA Champions League football against The New Saints FC. It may only be the first qualifying round, but the 45,000 residents of their home town will take every opportunity to enjoy football at the highest level.

European pedigree
Founded in 1997, Ventspils have had tastes of European football in the past, making their continental debut in the 1999 UEFA Intertoto Cup and going on to play regular UEFA Cup football, earning an exciting second qualifying round tie against English side Newcastle United FC last season, which they lost 1-0 on aggregate after an encouraging two-legged tie.

Bigger fish
The UEFA Champions League, however, is another matter entirely. "It's much more prestigious than the UEFA Cup," said coach Roman Grigorchuk. "My dream is to play in the group stage. That would be quite an achievement. I'm sure that all of my colleagues would agree - the two main landmarks for a coach are a taking the job with your national team and the UEFA Champions League."

Bitter memories
Club president Yuri Bespalov feels the club's debut in Europe's top club competition is long overdue. "We have had to work very hard for a long time to achieve this," he said. "The main thing was to win the Latvian title. We came very close in 2001 and 2002 but just missed out. Those failures haunted us for a long time, but after last season all those bad feelings are gone."

Battling mentality
Although their opponents from Wales are hardly illustrious, no one is expecting an easy ride against TNS. Ukrainian striker Serhiy Sernetskyy said: "Neither match will be easy. All British teams fight till the last moment, have tough character and never give up. It's very important for us to get a good result in Wales. At home it will be easier - our fans will give us huge support."

Huge day
The 25-year-old, who arrived from FC Stal Alchevsk at the start of the season, is just hoping not to freeze under the spotlight: "Playing in the UEFA Champions League is a memorable event in the club's history and in my career. I have never even played in the Intertoto Cup, and now I have a chance to take part in the best European club competition."

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