This 2020/2021 Nations League campaign was deemed a great opportunity to turn their fortunes around, but instead Latvia opened their commitments with a disappointing goalless stalemate against Andorra on home soil.
Latvia, Malta’s opponents for tomorrow’s second Nations League tie from Group 1 in League D, had won their most recent game – a 1-0 win in their 400th international game over Austria in their final Euro 2020 qualifier back in November.
However, prior to that game they were at the back of a dreadful streak – 18 games without a single win that included a couple of 0-0 draws against Andorra as well, between June 2018 and November 2019.
This prompted the Latvian FA to put Dainis Kazakevics in charge of the team, meaning that three of the four teams in this group – Faroe Islands and Malta the other two – have started this campaign under a new coach.
The current Latvia side is a far cry team from the one that had delighted the nation in 2004 when they made it to the European Championships in Portugal.
Despite exporting a number of players to some of the best leagues in Europe, Latvia’s squad is mainly composed of domestic-based players with a handful of individuals featuring in leagues such as in Ukraine, Finland and Armenia.
Against Andorra, Latvia featured in a 4-2-3-1 system that did not pay dividends despite being the most dangerous team on the field, missing also a penalty in the process.
They were also forced to play most of the second half in a numerical disadvantage after striker Vladislavs Gutkovskis was sent off for elbowing an opponent.
In fact, Latvia coach Kazakevics has called up 18-year-old Raimonds Krollis of FC Metta, who has scored 8 goals in 16 league games so far and is yet to make his debut for the U-21 side as well. Nonetheless, he has a terrific record at international level as he found the net 10 times in 13 U-19 games.
Meanwhile, Latvia will be hoping that experienced forward Davis Ikaunieks, who plays at Czechia Mlada Boleslav, recovers for this game after missing out against Andorra due to an injury. His brother, Janis, is also part of the squad having played as a midfielder in the Nations League opener.
Besides the injuries and suspensions, Latvia had to face also coronavirus restrictions as Switzerland club Sion have decided not to release their forward Robert Uldriskis to travel to a red-listed country such as Malta. The new FIFA rules allow clubs to decide themselves whether or not to release their players for international dates should their nations be playing at ‘high-risk’ countries.
The Swiss government has imposed a 10-day quarantine on travellers from the Maltese islands.
This means that without forwards Gutkovskis and Uldriskis, and Ikaunieks at half-service, Latvia’s chances of a goal will fall on the shoulders of the uncapped 18-year-old forward Krollis. Not what coach Kazakevics would have wanted given he is at the helm of a team who netted just seven goals in their last 19 ties – Malta scored three more in 19 games.
Latvia’s main characteristics are their physical game and set-pieces, given that they boast a number of tall players. Two features which usually give the Maltese national team a hard time hence Kazakevics is hoping that tomorrow’s game can serve as a turning point for the Latvia national team.
Pavel Steinborg (Jagiellonia, Poland); Robert Ozols (Riga); David Oss (Spartak Jurmala); Mark Osh (Spartak Jurmala); Kaspars Dubra (Olexandria, Ukraine); Anthony Chernomordy (Riga); Elvis Stuglis (Riga); Roberts Savanieks (RFS); Kriss Karklins (Valmiera); Vladislav Sorokins (RFS); Raivis Jurkovskis (FK Liepaja); Ritvars Rugins (Riga); Arturs Zjuzins (RFS); Eduards Emsis (Noah, Armenia); Andrejs Ciganiks (FC Zorya, Ukraine); Vladislav Fyodorov (Riga); Alvis Jaunzems (Valmiera); Gleb Kushkin (Suduva, Lithuania); Janis Ikaunieks (RFS); Martins Kigurs (FK Liepaja); Igor Tarasov (KuPS, Finland); Raimonds Krollis (FK Metta); Davis Ikaunieks (Mlada Boleslav, Czechia).