Riga finished second in the Latvian top flight last term, four points behind champions Valmiera. It gave them a chance to play in European qualifiers, and they successfully defeated Derry City and Ruzomberok home and away but came unstuck against Gil Vincente. But they’ll be hoping to go one better next season.
At the time of writing, Virsliga 2023 is well underway, with fourteen fixtures having been played so far. And it’s Riga who currently sit top of the pile, having won twelve and drawn two, so they’re looking pretty good right now and have a four-point lead over RFS, who finished third last term. Riga are looking strong, which is why they’re a team people betting on Europa League games, especially in qualifying stages, look for. But they could go one better if things go well domestically.
2020 is a prime example of what could be in store for Riga if all goes to plan. They’d been declared champions of Latvia the previous season, which meant they had the chance to enter the qualification stages for the prestigious Champions League, where they succumbed to Dundalk on penalties in the first round. Unfortunately, they then lost 3-2 on aggregate to FC Copenhagen qualifying for the Europa League following Champions League qualification elimination.
So what’s different this time around, you may ask? Well, it’s a case of so far, so good in Riga’s league campaign, where they look currently look unstoppable. At this stage in 2022, they had already lost on four occasions, dropping a total of fourteen points by matchday fourteen, which let others get a run on them in the title race. And that’s significant in terms of which European competition(s) are qualified for ahead of the next campaign.
Croatian manager Tomislav Stipic’s arrival has also proved significant for Riga. The former Auda chief arrived at the club in July 2023 and immediately got to work in the transfer market by recruiting multiple new players, mostly on free transfers, as he plotted a way to restore Riga to the top of the pile in Latvian football. Something he’s already progressing with as he has an impressive points per game average of 2.67 at the time of writing, which is seriously impressive.
One of the newest arrivals at Riga is striker Marko Regza, who has already established himself as one of the number-one goal getters in the league this season. He's scored eight goals in fourteen Virsliga outings so far and weighed in with assists too. It's players like Regza, and his arrival, that could make all the difference in terms of the European competition initially qualified for by Riga.
The onus will then be on him, his teammates and manager Stipic to go one better than they have in recent times to make it into the Champions League qualification stages and potentially beyond. And failing that, the Europa League. Riga already looks stronger and have more quality, so this could be the year they manage to pull it off.