Latvia first entered FIFA World Cup™ qualifying in 1992, and although the team representing the newly-independent nation failed to record a win, they announced their re-emergence on the international stage with commendable draws against Spain and Denmark. However, they were unable to make a significant impression in the qualifying competitions for the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France and the 2002 finals in Korea/Japan.
The men from the Baltic managed four wins and three draws in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, but that was only enough for a disappointing fifth spot in their group. The campaign for places at South Africa 2010 was much more encouraging, as coach Aleksandrs Starkovs’ men remained in the hunt until the last round of matches, and ended up third in their section behind Switzerland and Greece.
The current crop
Progress in the Latvian game has been gradual but steady in recent years, with a place at UEFA EURO 2004 the highlight so far, although that remains Latvia’s sole appearance at a major tournament to date. The current team rates as hard to beat, and could be good for an upset or two in the future.
The key players
Following the retirement of Vitalijs Astafjevs, captain for many years and the nation’s most-capped player, the team is now spearheaded by all-time top scorer Maris Verpakovskis and skipper Kaspars Gorkss.
Coach: Marian Pahars
Best performance in a FIFA competition: None
Former stars: Vitalijs Astafjevs, Aleksandrs Kolinko, Mihails Zemlinskis