Latvija / Latvia
- Capital: Riga / Rīga
- Official Languages: Latvian
- Nicknames: 11 vilki (11 Wolves); Sarkanbaltsarkanie (Red-white-red)
- Association: Latvijas Futbola federācija (LFF)
- FIFA Code: LVA
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Group Stage (2004)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 45th (November 2009)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 61st (December 2004)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 148th (September 2017)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 107th (September 2015)
- Most Capped Player: Vitālijs Astafjevs – 167 caps
- Top Scorer: Māris Verpakovskis – 29 goals
The Republic of Latvia, situated on the Baltic coast, is another one of the countries that broke free of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. However their history in international football extends back to 1922, where they played neighbours Estonia in their debut game, and played 99 official internationals prior to WW2. They wouldn’t reappear on the football scene until 1991 once they had regained their independence and became a member of UEFA and FIFA. Latvian football experienced a golden era in the early 2000s when a talented generation of players surprised European football by qualifying for the 2004 European Championships, beating Turkey (who had finished third in the 2002 World Cup) in a play-off to qualify for their first major tournament. Unfortunately the Latvians were placed in an exceedingly tough group amongst the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands, and naturally finished bottom of the group. However, the highlight of their campaign was probably earning themselves a point and clean sheet against Germany in Porto, as the outsiders earned themselves many admirers with their play.
Alas since Latvia’s first appearance on the big stage, the fortunes of the Baltic country have steadily decreased as more of their golden generation have retired. Today, Latvia are probably in their worst position since independence with the country languishing in League D in the UEFA Nations League, and amongst the lower-ranked seeded teams in Europe. Sadly the heady heights and fortunes of Euro 2004 seem to be a long distance away for the Latvians currently…
Talking about one of the smaller countries in European football and a country who’s fortunes have dropped dramatically since their qualification for the 2004 European Championships, we interviewed LV_futbols. They are a Latvian-language Twitter account (with the odd English-language tweet) who report on Latvian football, as well as Latvian players playing abroad, and the Latvian national team. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @LV_futbols
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
It is too hard to choose just one individual player so I will mention three instead. Māris Verpakovskis has scored the most goals for the Latvian national team and he was a leader in Euro 2004 qualifiers, leading us to the final tournament. He scored a few crucial goals. Vitālijs Astafjevs is a hard-worker who has played the most games for the national team and captain of our golden generation which qualified for Euro 2004. Finally Marians Pahars is our best footballer in terms of his club career. He saved Southampton from potential relegation, scored 42 goals in English Premier League, and still is in the hearts of all Saints fans.
About the coach, of course, it is Aleksandrs Starkovs who led us to Euro 2004 and had two further stints as Latvian manager. After Euro 2004, he got a job at Spartak Moscow and helped them to get 2nd place in 2005 Russian Premier League. But, of course, achieving qualification for Euro 2004 is the main success in Latvian football history.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
It is the same. All of the Euro 2004 golden generation are cult heroes and I can mention all the squad of those times: Koliņko, Stepanovs, Zemļinskis, Isakovs, Blagonadeždins, Astafjevs, Laizāns, Lobaņovs, Rubins, Bleidelis, Rimkus, Verpakovskis, Prohorenkovs, Pahars, Štolcers, Zirnis. They all are heroes.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Latvia currently?
We had conducted some voting among media people recently (http://sportacentrs.com/futbols/latvijas_izlase/24122020-mediju_balsojums_steinbors_apsteidz_gutko) and the voted declared that Pāvels Šteinbors won the title of best Latvian footballer in 2020 (also in 2019). My personal choice was Vladislavs Gutkovskis, as he is the leading forward in the national team and also in club football for his club Raków Częstochowa, who are challenging for the Polish Ekstraklasa title.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
The current state is very, very poor. Latvia won only 1 of their 6 group games in the UEFA Nations League League D with Andorra, the Faroe Islands and Malta, so it tells you everything about the state of our football nowadays.
Q. Are there any Latvian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
As you will see in voting link previously, Raimonds Krollis (19) is a promising striker who has already scored his first goal for the national team and is regarded as big talent. Also Kristers Tobers (20) plays for Lechia Gdańsk in the Polish Ekstraklasa and can achieve something special. In addition, we have Daniels Ontužāns (20) currently playing in the FC Bayern II reserve team, but it is not clear in what direction his career is developing as he does not play enough competitive games throughout the season.
Q. Looking at Latvia’s international history as an independent country, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
Of course, the whole of 2004 European Championships campaign. In the qualifiers, a 1-0 victory in Poland after Laizāns’ beautiful goal, beating Hungary 3-1 in a style, keeping Sweden (with Zlatan Ibrahimović) to a goalless draw before beating them in the decisive away game 1-0 to earn a play-off spot. The fans will never forget beating Turkey (3rd in the world at that time) in the two-legged play-off, when after a 1-0 home victory in Riga, we got into a bad situation by being 0-2 down in an away match, but managed to earn a 2-2 draw and progress to the tournament winning 3-2 on aggregate. Verpakovskis scored almost all the goals in the mentioned matches.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
The period 2018-2020 was our lowest point. The first serious damage was done in 2016 when we lost to the Faroes 0-2 at home, but later it got only worse. Although it was just a friendly match, losing 0-1 with Gibraltar in 2018 was very harmful to morale and momentum, and then very bad results followed. Draws with Andorra, Faroes, losing to Malta, etc. Everyone is still waiting to see when the Latvian national team will finally pull themselves out from this deep crisis.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Latvian national team?
The best thing are the memories about 2004 and possibility to play against the big nations in the qualifiers. The worst thing is the depression thinking about the past 3 years of poor results and performances.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
It would be better to ask the Latvian ultras, but as I have heard, this song is pretty popular for Latvian football fans:
The song’s name is “Three Men” but the supporters change words to “Eleven Men“, and, of course, sing much slower then in original version. 🙂
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
I personally don’t have a particular favourite but I think that any of the shirts worn during the Euro 2004 generation is a favourite with the fans.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Latvian national team?
I believe that Latvian football will eventually come out of the crisis we are currently in as there are people, clubs, media, fans who are concerned about future of football in the country. Working together will ensure improvement. There was a bad period when Latvian football was stuck in past (too much reminiscing about 2004), when football federation was stagnant and now we are paying a high price for that. But for a while some good things have been done and it should only be a short matter of time before Latvian football improves to an average level (at least) and comparable with past results. At least I hope so.
A massive paldies to LV_futbols for answering our questions on the 11 vilki. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at email@example.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.