Šabala stars as Latvia thrash Liechtenstein

Latvia 4-0 Liechtenstein
Marians Pahars' men had a straightforward start to Group 5 qualifying thanks to two goals apiece from Valērijs Šabala and Deniss Rakeļs.

Valērijs Šabala (left) in familiar celebratory mode with club side Skonto
Valērijs Šabala (left) in familiar celebratory mode with club side Skonto ©Roman Koksharov

Latvia began UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying on the front front with a convincing 4-0 victory over Liechtenstein in Jurmala.

Valērijs Šabala set the ball rolling for Marians Pahars' team with a 30th-minute goal that was supplemented by second-half strikes by the same player and Deniss Rakeļs, who scored twice in ten minutes. It amounted to a sobering start to Group 5 competition for Roger Prinzen's charges.

The visitors even had the reprieve of an early penalty miss by Rakeļs, whose attempt was saved by Lorenzo Lo Russo before Roberts Savaļnieks sent the rebound wide. Šabala showed them how on the half-hour by finding the top corner, then following up his opener with a strike against the woodwork.

Any inspiration Liechtenstein may have taken from a Vinzenz Flatz near-miss minutes before the interval evaporated soon after it, as Rakeļs beat Lo Russo in a one-on-one. The No10 doubled his tally from Edgars Jermolajevs' cross and, two minutes later, Šabala registered his second as well.

With Liechtenstein's late chance of a consolation wasted by Niklas Kieber, there would be no blemish on a dominant Latvian display in which 18-year-old Skonto FC forward Šabala – who scored twice in a recent senior international friendly away to Turkey – and the speedy Rakeļs stole the show.