SK Liepājas Metalurgs are the first Latvian women's club to play in Europe and coach Vladimirs Lučiņins told UEFA.com: "We want so much to show that women's football is alive in Latvia."
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Two-time Latvian champions SK Liepājas Metalurgs have already made a name for themselves in European club competition; now it is the turn of their female squad to step onto the continental stage.
Metalurgs will become Latvia's first female representatives on the international stage when they make their UEFA Women's Champions League debut in Portugal on Thursday, taking on MTK Hungária FC, ASA Tel-Aviv FC and hosts SU 1° Dezembro in qualifying round Group 2.
Just how big a step up that is became apparent when UEFA.com contacted coach Vladimirs Lučiņins. "Who is calling?" he said. "UEFA.com? Are you kidding? Even Latvian media do not have any interest in us and you tell me you are from UEFA.com!" But such a lack of attention may not be permanent.
Women's national coach Didzis Matīss told UEFA.com: "Metalurgs' participation in the UEFA Women's Champions League is a great stride forward for all women's football in Latvia. It will help us promote women's football while Metalurgs themselves will get experience of high-level football. Their European campaign will motivate all the other girls and show them that everybody gets a chance."
Of course, overcoming three experienced clubs to join the likes of Olympique Lyonnais in the round of 32 is no easy task. "It will be very hard," Matīss said. "Metalurgs are in a transitional phase these days; a change of generation is going on. Besides, they don't have any international experience. I think MTK are the strongest among the four teams, but 1° Dezembro are also tricky opponents. I hope Metalurgs can battle for third place."
Lučiņins, whose club ended last season nine points clear of Skonto FC, is also realistic. "It's better for me to think about the squad and tactics now and not to predict the results. It's certainly always hard for debutants. My girls may lose their heads for no reason on the pitch, but I still believe in them. I won't promise you to win everything in Portugal, but we'll do everything we can. We will fight!"
However, as Matīss hinted, Metalurgs have lost several players from last year's success and are currently fourth in the five-team Latvian league, 12 points adrift of top spot. "It's just bad luck," insists Lučiņins. "We lose when we should win comfortably. A number of key players left our team at once.
"The UEFA Women's Champions League is very emotional moment which will pull us together," Lučiņins added. "I don't know what will happen in Portugal, but we just really want to show that women's football is alive in Latvia."