Celtic are no strangers to competing against newly founded clubs. Indeed, the Hoops have done so on several occasions in domestic football over the last few seasons, but, Glasgow derby aside, the Bhoys will now face an even younger club in Europa League qualification.
Neil Lennon’s men have been paired with Riga FC after the Latvian side defeated Tre Fiori of San Marino in the last round. Formed in 2014, Riga were properly constituted a year later, after a merger of two Riga based teams – FC Caramba Riga and Dinamo Riga. During the club’s debut season, the team played in the Latvian second division under the name of FC Caramba/Dinamo. They won the title and immediately gained promotion to the Higher League, Latvia’s top tier, and changed their name to Riga FC.
Since then, Riga have won the top division title twice, as well as lifting the Latvian Cup on one occasion. The club first entered European competition in season 2018/19, and beat CSKA Sofia 1-0 at home, before losing by the same score line in the return leg and bowing out on penalties. A year later, the Latvian champions played in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers and suffered the same fate when they lost to Dundalk 5-4 on penalties after two legs resulting in an aggregate score of 0-0.
Having exited Europe’s premier competition, Riga entered the second round of Europa League qualification and won a European tie for the first time, beating Piace Gliwist on away goals after the aggregate score was 4-4. The Latvian’s then advanced in the same way, seeing off HJK Helsinki on away goals with the scores locked at 3-3! Riga finally bowed out against Copenhagen at the Play Off stage, not before winning the home leg 1-0 though.
This season, the Latvian champions started their European exploits with a 2-0 defeat against Maccabi Tel Aviv, which meant that they dropped into the Europa League qualifiers, where they beat Tre Fiori 1-0 last week. Celtic will be heavy favourites going into the match, but should be warned against complacency, given that Riga managed to beat Copenhagen in a match last season, which is something that we didn’t manage over the two legs.