Latvia is a Baltic state bordered by Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, and Belarus. Its capital city is Riga. Football is the third most popular sport in Latvia after ice hockey and basketball.
The Latvian national team (nicknamed the 11 Wolves) are currently ranked 133rd in the world (between the Central African Republic and the Philippines). With an average ranking of 89, their highest ranking was 45 and their lowest was 148. They play in an all-deep red (carmine red) kit and play most of their games at the Daugava Stadium in Riga (although they also play at the 8,000 capacity Skonto Stadium). However, plans are afoot to build a new national stadium and multi sports arena with the help and support of UEFA. UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin has pledged the governing body’s financial support for the project and during a two-day visit to Latvia in 2022, Čeferin met with members of the national government, and held discussions with Latvian Football Federation (LFF) president Vadims Ļašenko.
The national team was founded in 1922 and played their first game that same year, against their neighbours Estonia. In 1937 they participated in their first qualification tournament – for the 1938 World Cup. In 1940 Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union and competed as the USSR until regaining their independence in 1991.
Their record appearance holder is Vitālijs Astafjevs (who had a spell in England with Bristol Rovers) with 167 caps and record goal scorer is Māris Verpakovskis with 29 goals.
Latvia have never qualified for a World Cup, but they did qualify for the 2004 European Championships with a side featuring key players like Marian Pahars and Igors Stepanovs. After finishing second behind Sweden in their qualifying group they then beat Turkey 3-2 on aggregate in the play-off to reach the finals in Portugal. At the finals, they were eliminated in the group stage, finishing bottom of a tricky group containing the Czech Republic, Holland and Germany. Although the team were unable to win a game, their impressive qualification achievement put Latvian football on the map.
Latvia, alongside their Baltic rivals, Lithuania and Estonia have also participated in the local sub-regional Baltic Cup tournament, which takes place every two years. Latvia have won the competition a record 13 times (with their last victory coming in 2018). They were defeated in the Baltic Cup in their last competitive fixture in November 2022, 8-7 on penalties by Iceland after a 1-1 draw. Andrejs Ciganiks scored the Latvians goal.
They are coached by Dainis Kazakevics (who was previously Coach of the Latvian under 21 side for seven years) and are captained by 26-year-old Riga FC player Antonijs Cernomordijs. Tbe current highest scorers in the squad are Vladislavs Gutkovskis who turns out for Polish side Raków Częstochowa and Riga FC’s Jānis Ikaunieks (who both have 11 goals to their name). Most of the side play in the Latvian League for sides such as FK RFS, Riga FC and Valmeira FC and the average age of the squad is 25 years. Expect to see them line up in a 4-4-2 formation.
They won their most recent UEFA Nations League group (also containing Moldova, Andorra and Liechtenstein) to gain promotion to UEFA Nations League C with Gutkovskis netting five goals in the campaign.
Latvia have only lost two out of their last twelve senior internationals, and their last win in 90 minutes came in a 2-0 away win against Liechtenstein in June 2022.
In the qualifying for the 2024 European Championships they have been drawn in a group containing Wales, Turkey, Croatia and Armenia and they commence their qualification campaign with a match against Wales in Cardiff on 28th March 2023, so you can see why they’ve chosen to play Ireland to prepare for that game.
Latvia Form Guide (last twelve games) – LDDLWWWWWDWD
Head-to-head – Ireland have played Latvia five times, winning all five games, scoring fourteen goals and conceding one.
Last meeting – The last time these two nations met was on 15th November 2013 in Dublin. In Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge Ireland ran out dominant 3-0 victors, with goals from Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and Shane Long.
Conclusion – Ireland are expected to win this friendly with ease, but with a huge game looming against France, changes sure to be made to the team in preparation for that match. Latvia have scored in each of their last eleven games. Prediction – 3-1 win for Ireland.