Derry City have made the trip to Latvia’s bustling capital city of Riga. Ahead of the second leg of their Europa Conference League first round qualification clash against, Riga FC.
Ruaidhri Higgins and his men have a mountainous task ahead of them, after losing their first leg tie in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium, 2-0.
Brazilian, Gabriel Ramos opened the scoring for the visitors. With Ukrainian Oleksandr Filippov killing off the game shortly after the hour mark.
To add insult to injury, Derry’s Mattie Smith received a questionable straight red, following a tame altercation with Riga midfielder, Ngonda Muzinga. Meaning, the Scottish winger will now be out for this vital second leg game.
When the initial draw was made, it was clear Derry had the most difficult outcome from every League of Ireland side involved in the opening round of Champions League, and Europa Conference League qualification.
However, the Candystripes certainly didn’t do themselves any favours on the night.
Jamie McGonigle was left extremely isolated in the forward position, and was crying out for a constant strike partner throughout the game. Perhaps, shifting Will Patching, or starting James Akintunde into that role in a front two for this return leg could improve that, and offer some sort of real threat going forward.
There wasn’t a huge gulf in class between the sides. However, Riga seemed slightly quicker to second balls, and much more willing to adopt an aggressive press when out of possession.
Derry City will need a big response in Riga, and while they’ve a mammoth task ahead of them. A bright start, and early goal, could really apply pressure to their Latvian counterparts.
What about Riga FC? Let’s get to know them a little bit more, before this crucial match on Thursday evening.
Riga FC are a relatively new entity. The club was officially founded in 2014, and began life in the Latvian First League a year later. Which is the second-tier of football in Latvia.
They first competed under the name, FC Caramba/Dinamo, after two Riga based teams FC Caramba, and Dinamo Riga merged together. After winning the Latvian First League in their inaugural season, they were promoted to the Virsliga. And promptly renamed to, Riga FC.
Extraordinarily, they made an instant impact in the Latvian top-flight, winning three consecutive league titles in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Riga’s European adventures began one season before their trifecta of title wins.
They faced Bulgari’s CSKA Sofia in the opening qualifying round of the 2018/19 Europa League. Agonisingly losing out on penalties, following a razor close two-legged affair.
Riga have faced some stiff competition in their brief, yet noteworthy European history.
Denmark’s Copenhagen denied them a group-stage position in the 2019/20 Europa League campaign, beating them 3-2 over two legs in that season’s play-offs. Celtic beat them in the third qualification round of the Europa League in 2020. And Swedish giants Malmo sent them packing in the first qualification round of last year’s Champions League.
Despite that Malmo result, they went on another lengthy European stint in 2021/22. Beating North Macedonia’s KF Shkendija, and Malta’s Hibernians FC to reach the play-offs for a group stage slot in the Europa Conference League.
Unfortunately, they came up short once again, losing out to Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps 4-2 on aggregate, with extra-time needed to settle things at the end of the second leg.
This encounter with Derry City isn’t their first meeting with a League of Ireland outfit in Europe.
Riga FC were drawn against Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk in the first qualifying round of the 2019/20 Champions League. Again, coming out on the losing end of a nail-biting penalty shoot-out defeat.
Overall, Riga FC have played 22 times in major UEFA European competitions. With a record of eight wins, six draws, and eight defeats.
Riga FC vs Derry City
This is a Riga team rammed with players that have represented their home nations at senior international level.
Thanos Petsos has played for Greece, along with the likes of Bayern Leverkusen, Rapid Wien, Werder Bremen and Fulham at club level.
Other capped players include Mikael Soisalo for Finland and Ngonda Muzinga for Democratic Republic of Congo. Along with several Latvian internationals, including former Dundalk full-back, Raivis Jurkovskis.
No denying, it’s a Riga squad with plenty of big match pedigree.
However, this is a Derry squad with plenty of quality, and in the exciting process of building the foundation for major success going forward.
It’ll be a difficult ask to leave the Skonto Stadium with progression into the next round, but it certainly isn’t impossible.
A tie with either Ruzomberok of Slovakia, or Lithuania’s Kauno Zalgiris awaits the winner.
And everyone here at the Big Kick Off is hoping Derry City will be fielding out against one of them.
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