While last Saturday most of the footballing world was focused on the Preliminary Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil, the on-field action continued apace in many corners of the globe. In Germany, clubs were competing in the first round of the DFB Cup, while it was already the sixth round of matches in the Swiss Super League.
FC Sion kicked off the new season on 16 July against FC Zurich with Andris Vanins between the posts. The Latvian national team goalkeeper has been with Sion since 2009 and already has a Swiss Cup winner’s medal to his name, after his club beat Neuchatel Xamax 2-0 to take the trophy for the 12th time in its history.
“We were ready for them and we won,” enthused Vanins, who makes no secret of his enjoyment of Swiss football. “The Swiss Super League is a strong championship with talented players, a high standard of football and plenty of spectators.”
Before joining Sion, Vanins kept goal for FK Ventspils in Latvia’s Virsliga. “The biggest difference between the Virsliga and the Swiss league is in people’s attitude toward football,” he told FIFA.com. “In Latvia you don’t even get 2,000 spectators at a match, and you rarely see games on TV.” Although in recent years football has gained popularity significantly in Latvia, it still trails behind basketball and ice hockey.
Kahn and Van der Sar the role models
Vanins says his particular role models are Oliver Kahn and Edwin van der Sar, and regards Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon as the best goalkeepers currently playing. He became champion of Latvia with Ventspils in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and in the latter year was voted his country’s Player of the Year. Unsurprisingly, Vanins has strong views about the goalkeeper’s role: “The keeper should always be calm, composed and assured in what he is doing, so that he gives the whole team confidence.”
Not only is he an established cornerstone of the team at Sion, Vanins has the same status in his national side, for which he made his debut in 2000. “I’m sure every footballer is proud to wear his country’s colours,” said the 31-year-old. “It’s a great responsibility to play for your country.”
Following Saturday’s draw, Latvia, currently ranked 83rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, will meet Greece, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lithuania and Liechtenstein in qualifying Group G for Brazil 2014. Up to now, the country has never qualified for a FIFA World Cup, but under coach Aleksandrs Starkovs the team kept the dream of reaching the 2010 tournament in South Africa alive until the last round of matches. In the end they finished third in the group behind Switzerland and Greece.
Calmness, coolness and prudence
“It’s every footballer’s dream to play in a World Cup, and mine too, of course,” Vanins said. “But I’m not thinking about the World Cup in Brazil right now, because all my focus at the moment is on the EURO 2012 qualifiers.”
Asked about the particular characteristics of the Latvian national team, he responded: “Calmness, coolness and prudence. I would describe the team as uncompromising – a team that can go head to head with any opponent.” He sees a continuous improvement in the results of Latvian football over the past few years.
Vanins has no doubt about how he would like to see his future. “My dream is to play in Germany’s Bundesliga,” he said. “I like its quality of football, its organisation and the stadiums. As far as I’m concerned it’s the best championship. My personal goal is to leave my imprint on the game, and to help Latvian football achieve greater prominence.”
Success in the qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2012 and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil would certainly go a long way towards achieving those ambitions.