Monday, 13 October 2014

Latvia v Turkey. 13/10/14

"Marian Pahars, Pahars, Pahars, he's taking us to Paris, to Paris, to Paris, and that is why we like him, we like him, we like him."

Latvia 1-1 Turkey. Skonto Stadions.
Monday 13/10/14
When Michel Platini came up with his idea for the international week of football - spreading qualifiers for Euro 2016 from a Thursday through to a Tuesday - most people described it as crazy and a cynical idea just to help boost Uefa and television companies coffers.

Of course, it is fashionable to slag off anything that football governing bodies do these days without giving a second thought to what it could actually mean. This brainchild of Monsieur Platini's is a case in a point as it actually turns out to be a fantastic idea.

Riga Old Town - a delightful area
Yes, you've read that right. Absolutely no grumblings from the good people at McCarthy's Football Travels. How can there be when the week of football is the sole reason you can take in a spine tingling international encounter between two heavyweights of the game like Latvia and Turkey?

Without it, this trip to the Baltic's would have been as pointless as giving a kiss of life to a rasher of bacon. The whole purpose of it was of course to watch Estonia v England but unfortunately beer, vodka and women conspired to create the mother of all hangovers which meant I ended up missing the entire game fast asleep back at the hostel.

Can't whack a bit of Soviet architecture
These Latvian's have certainly got their priorities right
I did however wake up in time for another heavy night on the sauce post-England game, meaning that the Monday bus journey from Tallinn back to Riga was about as fun as colonic irrigation (Google image search it if you are unsure). Having had just a few hours stopover in the Latvian capital en route to Estonia, this was a good chance to explore and it was a wonderful place. Not quite in Tallinn's league in terms of old town and drinking, but nonetheless a fine city with the added bonus of a fair bit of Soviet architecture thrown in. We do love a big Soviet building.

Skonto Stadium through the gloom of a Riga Monday evening
After an afternoon of hungover walking around, it was off to Skonto Stadions, home of Latvia and Skonto Riga. The popularity of this game was such that you could walk up to a small booth outside the entrance to the carpark and part with £10 worth of Euros for a ticket. An absolute bargain to see Southampton legend Marian Pahars' boys in action.

And that wasn't the only bargain available at Skonto. Any food inside Wembley Stadium is like paying £72 to have a lump of dead horse served up between two stale pieces of bread yet here was £3 for a gigantic plate of sausage, potato and sauerkraut. Sod stadium snacks, this was a full blown meal for two that would not only leave you full up for at least two hours but also clog an artery in an instant.

Stadium food doesn't come much better than this
I wasn't the only England fan taking advantage of the week of football - there were two England flags inside the ground and countless people from our septic isle spread throughout. That meant the Latvia merchandise kiosk - which consisted of a table and a couple of shirts hung on a wall - did a roaring trade with yours truly getting swept up in Euromania and purchasing a delightful scarf.

The Latvian merchandise kiosk doing a roaring trade
Skonto Stadion itself is bloody weird. Behind one goal the stand only stretches around 2/3rds of the pitch before meeting a huge brick building from whence the teams emerged. Behind the other goal there isn't even a stand - just a car park. Small single tiered efforts abound down both sides and with most of the noise escaping the wide open spaces the atmosphere was best described as flat.

The English get behind Latvia for the evening

Latvian Gasheads
That was despite the best efforts of the English contingent (Latvia for tonight, we're Latvia for tonight, we know we are we're sure we are we're Lativa for tonight etc etc) and the group of what seemed to be ten thousand schoolchildren situated in one corner just shouting LAT-VI-A over and over again.

Car parking behind the goal is very League Two

The main stand of Skonto Stadions
Skonto Stadions

The football itself wasn't particularly appealing either. Turkey dominated the first half as you would expect and went ahead through an absolute rocket of an effort from Bilal Kisa early in the second. The lead didn't last long, Latvia equalising through Valerijs Sabala from the penalty spot.

You know it has been a poor game when the highlight is undoubtedly supplied by the chairman's column in the programme, as it was on this occasion with the Latvian FA man telling his supporters they could expect the team "to fight for every ball and the middle square centimeter" - whatever that is.

Inspiring words about the middle square centimeter
A 90th minute red card for Latvia's Gints Freimanis came too late to allow the disappointing Turks to take something from the game. And that was that.  Having set off from London Gatwick three days earlier looking forward to Estonia v England, having to settle for a rubbish game between Latvia and Turkey wasn't exactly an ideal return for four days of traveling the Baltics no matter what brilliant, brilliant countries both Estonia and Latvia are.

But at least I got see a 11 blokes kicking a ball around eventually. And for that, hats off to Michel Platini. Long live the week of football.

Latvia v Turkey - games don't come bigger than this

The crowd go wild as Latvia equalise from the penalty spot
Latvia: Aleksandrs Kolinko, Kaspars Dubra, Aleksejs Visnakovs, Vladislavs Gabovs (Gints Freimanis), Janis Ikaunieks, Valerijs Sabala 1, Eduards Visnakovs (Deniss Rakels), Artus Zjuzins (Viktors Morozs), Aleksandrs Fertovs, Antons Kurakins. 

Turkey: Volkan Babacan, Semih Kaya, Gokhan Gonul, Umut Bulut, Arda Turan, Gokhan Tore (Hamit Altintop), Oguzhan Ozyakup (Bilal Kisa 1), Mehmet Topal, Ozan Tufan, Caner Erkin, Olcay Sahan (Buyuk Adem).

Attendance: 6,342

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