Star players, current form and more - Latvian football expert breaks down Larne's Champions League opponents RFS

RFS celebrate after beating Linfield in 2022. PIC: INPHO/PressEye.com/Jonathan PorterRFS celebrate after beating Linfield in 2022. PIC: INPHO/PressEye.com/Jonathan Porter
RFS celebrate after beating Linfield in 2022. PIC: INPHO/PressEye.com/Jonathan Porter
Larne’s Champions League journey gets underway in Riga against RFS on Wednesday evening, but how much do you know about their Latvian opponents?

From star players to current form and much more, we’ve enlisted the help of Latvian football expert Dmitrijs Kravcenko, who runs the Latvian Football Podcast alongside co-hosts Frank and Gustavs, to help answer some important questions.

Irish League fans will feel Larne drawing RFS is a positive result, but are fans of RFS and Latvian football also happy with the draw?

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Dmitrijs: “Yes, we are generally satisfied with the draw but understand that it could have been both better and worse. In a sense, this is a moderate draw for us.

"On paper, RFS are superior on almost every metric, but Latvian clubs do have a complicated history with Irish clubs (Riga FC recently walking over Derry City notwithstanding).

"Following the draw, many people around the club and the league, head coach - Viktors Morozs - included, immediately warned against becoming complacent, but, that being said, I would say that the prevailing sentiment is that we are already preparing for the game against Bodo/Glimt, which is somewhat alarming.”

RFS are sitting top of the league and seem to be in good form - are they entering the Larne match in a positive place?

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Dmitrijs: "It is true that RFS are in a very comfortable position at the top of the league with a seven-point lead over their arch-rivals, Riga FC, who are in second place.

"For the Latvian league, this is a significant lead, given that every one of the last three championships was decided on the final matchday. There are four laps in the Latvian Higher League (Virsliga) season, and RFS performed identically in both laps, collecting 22 points in each.

"This speaks to the quality that this club is most famous for in Latvia - stability and consistency. This is not a quality that necessarily translates to the European games though.

"Last year, for example, the opening bout of the Conference League against Makedonija GP did not inspire much confidence. I would say that RFS are always going to be more dangerous in the return leg as they are very good at learning and adapting but do tend to be a bit timid and conservative when first playing against unfamiliar opponents.

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"In this sense, Larne will need to show up in full force at the LNK Sporta Parks as the return leg, despite being at home, is going to be significantly more challenging.”

Who are the most dangerous players from RFS that Larne fans should be wary of?

Dmitrijs: "One of the biggest dangers of RFS in the Virsliga is that they are a team first and players second. In addition to delivering stability on the pitch, they also seldom rotate players.

"The core of the team had played together for some four or five years now. Still, left winger, Emerson from Brazil is quick and technical, team captain and central defender from Slovenia - Lipuscek - is a menace during set pieces, attacking midfielders Ikaunieks and Kigurs (both Latvian internationals) are creative and can score from a distance, and the two wing backs - Mares and Savalnieks - will be peppering Larne's box with well-aimed crosses for RFS's tall centre-forward.”

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RFS have been in Northern Ireland before, memorably beating Linfield in the Conference League play-off. How big of a moment was that for Latvian football?

Dmitrijs: "Getting into the group stage was a big moment, with RFS being only the second Latvian team (and first in 13 years to that date) to make it to the group stage of a European competition.

"It is still questionable whether RFS playing in the group stage of the Conference League had much of an impact on Latvian football, but it certainly gave RFS more credence on the international transfer market.

"Beating Linfield became an afterthought though, likely because nobody was under any illusions about which was the better team and which team got lucky and ended up winning.”

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RFS were only formed in 2016. How have they managed to make such quick strides to winning the Latvian league and impressing on the European stage?

Dmitrijs: "The club was actually founded in 2005 and can be traced back even a bit further - to 2003 and the junior team of the legendary Skonto Riga.

"Since 2005 the club had undergone three name changes before becoming the RFS we know and love today. This was when they gained (note that not earned!) promotion to the Virsliga after the 2015 season.

"The key to their success is gradual but stable growth. RFS don't tend to do flashy transfers and don't shy away from relying on the more experienced players and they don't change players or coaches very often.

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"Their previous manager was in charge for two-and-a-half years and the current head coach is leading the club since 2020. It's all about gradual and sustainable growth for RFS under the current model - they are a bit like a freight train or a large ship, slow to get going but very difficult to stop once they pick up steam.”

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