Who are Dundalk's Champions Le...


Who are Dundalk's Champions League opponents - Riga FC?

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Dundalk have avoided what would have been the toughest possible draw in Polish champions Piast Gliwice in the Champions League first qualifying round but what of the team they will face, Riga FC?

The draw was made this afternoon and pits the Irish champions against a club that was only registered in 2014 before being officially established in 2015 after a merger between two of the city's clubs - FC Caramba Riga and Dinamo Riga.

The newly-established club began life in the Latvian First League (second tier) under the name FC Caramba/Dinamo and won promotion to the Higher League (Vrsliga) at the first time of asking as champions in 2015.

It was after winning promotion that they changed their name to Riga FC.

Since 2016, home games have been played at the 9,500 capacity Skonto Stadium, former home of Skonto (dissolved in 2016), which is also where the Latvian national side play their home games.

Riga achieved a fifth-place finish in their first season in the top-flight before coming third of seven teams in the 2017 season - Babite had been thrown out mid-season following a match-fixing scandal.

Thanks to that third-place finish, they qualified for the Europa League but were handed a tough draw in their maiden European season against CSKA Sofia last year.

The Bulgarian outfit only managed to win the tie on penalties after the two teams earned 1-0 wins in their respective home legs.

Ex-Ukraine international Viktor Skrypnyk was appointed as manager ahead of that European tie and went on to lead the club to their first Vrsliga title and Latvian Cup wins.

They finished top of the league and four points clear of six-time champions Ventspils whom they also defeated in the cup final on penalties last October.

Dundalk's opponents have had a few managers in charge in 2019

Before they had begun their title defence in 2019, the club announced the departure of Skrypnyk in February.

Since then, the club appointed Portuguese Luís Berkemeier Pimenta who left in March before the start of the new season. He was replaced by reserve team coach Mihails Konevs on a caretaker basis.

Belarus native Oleg Kubarev took the reins at the end of March but he then left at the end of April at which point Konevs was re-appointed and there he remains with the club back on top of the table.

A run of six wins, a draw and two defeats in their nine league matches under Konevs took them back to top place, ahead of FK RFS on goal difference, and with a game-in-hand.

Konevs has switched between 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 formations this season with 25-year-old Serbian sharp-shooter Darko Lemajic the man usually picked to lead the line.

Lemajic has been absent from the matchday squad for reasons that are unclear, possibly injury, for the last four league fixtures.

The 25-year-old joined the club in 2017 and after a 3-goal haul in 8 games in his first season in Latvia, he found the net 15 times in 24 games in the title-winning season which earned him the Vrsliga's top-scorer prize.

Lemajic has scored 5 goals in 10 appearances so far this term while the man filling his boots for the last few weeks, Polish forward Kamil Bilinski, has scored once in those 4 games.

Tomislav Saric is another key player for the Latvian champions. The 28-year-old Croatian plays as a defensive midfielder in the 4-2-3-1 formation or in the central pair in the 4-1-4-1 and has also bagged a couple of goals this season.

Both clubs will go into the tie having played a similar amount of matches as the Vrsliga also begins in March and is played through the summertime.

The first leg on July 9/10 will be played at Oriel Park with the second leg at the Skonto Stadium set to be played on July 16/17.

Dundalk's participation in the Champions League is worth €800,000 with the winners of the tie guaranteed another €400,000 and even if the League of Ireland champions lose, they are guaranteed a place in the Europa League as domestic champions.

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