Latvia

Capital: Riga
Population: 2.4 million
Currency: Lats
Official Language: Latvian
Borders: Estonia (North), Russia (East), Belarus (South/East), Lithunia (South)
GNP per Capita: $2,430 (80th in world)
Main Airport: Riga International – Riga

Lying between Estonia and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, Latvia is one of the smaller former Russian states that gained independence in 1991.  Temperatures in the winter are very harsh.

The Virslīga is the top division of Latvian football championship, organised by Latvian Football Federation. The new season kicks off in April of every year because of the harsh climate there are no games in winter.  There are 8 clubs in the Virslīga. During the course of the season each clubs plays others four times, twice at their home stadium and twice at that of their opponents, for a total of 28 games. At the end of season, the lowest placed team are automatically relegated into 1. līga, and winner of the 1. līga automatically takes its place. The second lowest placed team in Virslīga and second team of 1. līga plays two matches for place in the Virslīga in next season.  In 2007 the league decided to expand from 8 teams to 10 teams in LMT Virslīga.  For more detail on the league go toAbout a Ball.

For a detailed overview of who plays where in Latvia, go to Footiemap.com.

Past Virslīga winners

2009 SK Liepājas Metalurgs
2008 FK Ventspils
2007 FK Ventspils
2006 FK Ventspils
2005 FHK Liepājas Metalurgs
2004 Skonto FC
2003 Skonto FC
2002 Skonto FC
2001 Skonto FC
2000 Skonto FC
1999 Skonto FC
1998 Skonto FC
1997 Skonto FC
1996 Skonto FC
1995 Skonto FC
1994 Skonto FC
1993 Skonto FC
1992 Skonto FC

Virslīga clubs 2010

Skonto FC are based in Riga.  Champions on 13 consecutive occasions.  They play at the Skonto Stadions, the national arena which holds 8,300.  See section below  for more details.

FHK Liepājas Metalurgs are based in Liepajas and one of the current form teams.  They play at the 5,000 seater Daugava Stadium, pictured left.

FK Ventspils are based in Ventspils and Virsliga Champions in 2008.  They play at the Olimpiskais Stadions that holds 3,200 people, which is shown to the right.

Dinaburg FC play in Daugavpils.  Last season they finished in 4th place.  They play at the Celtnieks Stadium which holds 4,100.

FK Riga are based in Riga.  The club achieved their highest place finish in 2007 by finishing 3rd.  They play at the 5,000 capacity Latvijas Universitates Stadion which is pictured right.  See section below for more details.

FK Daugava Daugavpils from Daugavpils. They ground share the Celtnieks Stadium with Dinaburgs.

FK Jūrmala are based in the Skolas Stadium in Jurmala which holds 5,000 people.

JFK Olimps Rīga are the third team from Riga to play in the top league.  They share their ground with FHK Liepajas.  See section below for more details.

FOOTBALL IN RIGA

SKONTO RIGA – SKONTO STADIONS – CAPACITY: 8,800 ALL SEATER

About the Skonto Stadions
The Skonto Stadions is one of the new breed of stadiums that are appearing at regular intervals in the smaller European countries, such as Tallinn and Helsinki.  The stadium is very similar to some of the grounds you will find in England, and looks like Blackpool’s redeveloped Bloomfield Road (well the parts that have been built so far!).  It has four single tier stands, tow of which sweep round to form one stand.  The main stand has some small executive boxes in.

Who plays there?
The Skonto Stadions is home to both Latvia’s most successful domestic club Skonto Riga, and the international team.  The amazing thing about Skonto Riga is that they actually ceased to exist prior to Latvia’s independence in 1991.  Like most of the clubs in the Baltic States, there was little point in competing against the might of some of the teams from Moscow and Kiev, as well as the distances involved in travelling to away games.

Whilst it was obvious that the capital city needed a team, and a home, many people questioned the amount of money that was poured into the building of the new stadium and the team.  When the new Latvian league started in 1991, Skonto Riga dominated the league from day one.  They set a world record by winning the Latvian Virsliga every season up until 2004 – a total of 14 successive seasons.  During this period they also reached 12 cup finals, winning 7 times.

However, their monopoly on the honours has now come to the end as they finished second in 2005, and in 2006 they finished third as well as losing in the Latvian Cup final – meaning that for the first time in their history Skonto Riga will not be playing in European football in 2007.  The club have produced some of Latvia’s most famous players since 1991, including Marian Pahars who played for Southampton, and more recently Arsenal’s young centre-back Igors Stepanovs.

Their European campaigns have been short and sweet in most instances, as the team have only reached the third qualifying rounds of the Champions League on one occasion, in 1999 when after a 10-0 aggregate win against Jeunesse d’Esch from Luxembourg before recording their best ever victory by beating Rapid Bucherest 5-4 over two games.  This set up a mouth-watering tie against Chelsea (although in the days of Ken Bates and not Roman’s Roubles).  After a 3-0 defeat in London, the Latvians held the Londoners to a 0-0 draw in Riga.  Last season they participated in the UEFA Cup, exiting at the Second Round Qualifying Phase to Molde of Norway.

The National team has been in the doldrums over the past few years after hitting the highs of qualifying for Euro 2004 in Portugal.  At the present moment the team are bottom of the qualifying group and have no chance of progressing with Sweden, Denmark and Northern Ireland are setting the pace.  National games played at the Skonto are still very popular with the locals, and most games do sell out, irrespective of the opposition.

How to get there
The stadium is located to the north of the old town close to the Krisjana Valdemare main road.  It is easily walk able – from the central station head up Stabu Iela for around a 1km and you will reach the stadium.  A taxi will cost around €5.  Bus lines 11 and 33 run past the stadium, as well as tram line 5.

Go to Footiemap.com to get a graphical view of where the stadium is, as well as their rivals at their excellent map page for Riga.

Getting a ticket
With an average attendance in the Latvian Virsliga last season of just 700, getting a ticket for any league match in Latvia is not exactly hard.  Skonto regularly attract the season’s biggest attendance for the games versus Metalurgs but even then the stadium is only around a third full.  Therefore it is easily to purchase a ticket on the day of the game.  Tickets for the main stand cost around €7.

How to get there
The stadium is located to the north of the old town close to the Krisjana Valdemare main road.  It is easily walk able – from the central station head up Stabu Iela for around a 1km and you will reach the stadium.  A taxi will cost around €5.  Bus lines 11 and 33 run past the stadium, as well as tram line 5.

Nearest Airport – Riga International (RIX)
Telephone:              +371 720 7009
Website:                  http://www.riga-airport.com

Riga International Airport is the biggest airport in the Baltic States.  It opened in 1973 to replace the outdated airport in Spilve.  It is located around 13km south west of the city.  The easiest way to reach the city centre is the Express Bus 22a that runs from behind the car park at the main terminal to the Cathedral at Brivibas Boulevard.  Journey time is around 20 minutes and tickets cost LVL0.30.  A Taxi should cost no more than LVL9 but agree the fare before you start.  Plans are currently being submitted to build a tramlink direct to the city centre.

The airport is served on a daily basis from the UK by Air Baltic from London Gatwick andRyanair from Bristol, East Midlands, Liverpool, Glasgow Prestwick and London Stansted.

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