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Ventspils offered Sporting chance

Group-stage debutants FK Ventspils are still awaiting a first UEFA Europa League Group D win but they could fancy their chances against Sporting Clube de Portugal, who are enduring a tough domestic season.

Ventspils offered Sporting chance
Ventspils offered Sporting chance ©UEFA.com

Group-stage debutants FK Ventspils are still awaiting a first UEFA Europa League Group D win but they could fancy their chances at home against Sporting Clube de Portugal, who despite topping the section are enduring a tough domestic season.

Previous meetings
• Both clubs are entering new territory. They have never met before, and not only will this be Ventspils' first game against Portuguese opponents, it also be Sporting's first meeting with a side from Latvia.

Match background
• Ventspils are without a win in their last five European outings, but draws in both of their opening Group D games represented a solid start for Nunzio Zavettieri's side.

• The Latvian champions have lost just one of their last six European home matches, going down 3-0 against FC Zürich in this season's UEFA Champions League play-offs.

• Victory against Hertha BSC Berlin on Matchday 2 saw Sporting match their European best of six games without defeat.

Team facts
• Founded with the merger of FK Venta and FK Nafta in 1997, Ventspils made a surprise change of coach after they reached the UEFA Champions League play-offs. Italian Nunzio Zavettieri – a former AC Milan and FC Internazionale Milano youth trainer and one-time assistant at Udinese Calcio – took over from Ukrainian Roman Grygorchuk, who had led them to three consecutive Virsliga titles.

• Sporting coach Paulo Bento is a former midfielder who was surprisingly handed the first-team job midway through the 2005/06 campaign after a spell as a youth trainer. His team's success in winning two Portuguese Cups and two Super Cups earned him the nickname 'Papa-Taças' (Cup Eater).

• Sporting's Liedson is one of a trio of players to have registered three times since the start of the group stage, along with Athletic Club Bilbao's Fernando Llorente and LOSC Lille Métropole's Gervinho.

• Ventspils boast Portuguese talent in the form of forward João Martins, who played for SC Lourinhanense, FC Alverca, GD Chaves and SCU Torreense before trying his luck in Russia with FC Sibir Novosibirsk.

• Martins told a Portuguese newspaper that he was a Sporting fan and said of the fixture: "The game will be very important and exciting. Sporting have great players and always play for the Portuguese title. They have Liedson and João Moutinho, but they have a strong squad. Theoretically they are stronger than us but they will have to prove it on the field."

• Four Ventspils players will have fond memories of Portugal, having been members of the Latvia squad that competed at UEFA EURO 2004™, though they never played a competitive game in Lisbon: Aleksandrs Kolinko, Andrejs Pavlovs, Vitālijs Astafjevs and Jurijs Laizans.

• Latvia and Portugal met in EURO '96™ qualifying, with Portugal winning 3-1 in Liepaja and 3-2 in the return in Porto. Ventspils midfielder Astafjevs played in both games.

• They also met in 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying. Current Ventspils players Kolinko, Laizans and Astafjevs featured in a 2-0 home defeat by Portugal on 4 September 2004. Sporting's Marco Caneira came on as a substitute in that match, but Hélder Postiga remained on the bench.

• Caneira started and Postiga came on as a substitute as Portugal won the return fixture 3-0 on 12 October 2005, with Kolinko and Astafjevs contesting the full 90 minutes for Latvia.

• The two sides meet again in Lisbon on 5 November for Matchday 4.