Who are Dundalk's Champions League opponents Riga FC of Latvia?

Wed, Jun 19 2019

John Mountney is one of several Dundalk players who have been at the club longer than Riga have been in existence. Credit: Steve Alfred (ETPhotos)

Excursions to either Albania or Azerbaijan could be on the horizon for Dundalk at the end of July – that is, if they overcome Riga FC in the first qualifying round of the Champions League.

But what is it that Vinny Perth and Dundalk supporters need to know about the Latvian champions that they face in the first hurdle in Europe this season?

Recently established Riga hadn’t even been formed by the time Chris Shields, John Mountney, Dane Massey, Brian Gartland, Sean Gannon and Patrick Hoban had made their full debuts for Dundalk.

Riga were only established in 2015 as an amalgamation of two local clubs – Caramba Riga and Dinamo Riga – but, make no mistake, their short history doesn’t mean Dundalk face easy opposition.

They are the current Latvian double-winners and 11 of their current squad have been capped at international level, not just by Latvia but by Albania, Georgia and Serbia.

The most experienced of their international players is their captain, 35-year-old midfielder Aleksejs Visnakovs, who has amassed 81 caps for Latvia.

It is also important to note that nine of the current squad have previously played with Skonto Riga, who were the most successful club within the Latvian capital up until they folded in 2016.

Among other key players for Riga are the experienced trio of Olegs Laizans, Ritvars Rugins and Arturs Karasausks, who all featured in Latvia’s recent Euro 2020 qualifiers against Israel and Slovenia.

Their biggest attacking threat comes in the form of Serbian striker Darko Lemajic, who was the Virsliga’s top scorer last season with 15 goals to his name.

Much like Dundalk, the Latvian champions have a new manager this season after Viktor Skrypnyk (former Werder Bremen boss) departed the club in order to return to his native Ukraine.

Mihails Konevs subsequently took over and has, at the time of writing, guided the club to the top of the Virsliga with ten wins from his first 15 matches.

In terms of European pedigree, this will be Riga’s first ever Champions League tie. Last season in the Europa League first qualifying round, they took Bulgarian giants CSKA Sofia all the way to penalties in what was their maiden European campaign.

When the Lilywhites travel to Riga in four weeks’ time for the second leg of their Champions League first qualifying round tie, they will be hoping to bring a commanding lead to the Skonto Stadium.

It’s a venue that will be familiar territory to both Derry City and St Patrick’s Athletic supporters, who travelled there to face Skonto Riga in 2009 and 2015 respectively.

The stadium was also home to the Latvia international team up until 2017.

Dundalk will host Riga in the first leg at Oriel Park on July 10th before travelling to Latvia for the return leg on July 17th.

The victors will go on to face the winners of the tie involving FK Partizani (Albania) and Qarabag FK (Azerbaijan) in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.

Should the League of Ireland side lose, they will drop into the Europa League, where they will face the losers of the match between familiar foes BATE Borisov and Polish champions Piast Gliwice.