For a small nation, Latvian shirts are actually quite easy to come by. I’m not sure why this is the case, whether it is thanks to Adidas producing their kits or perhaps a well organised merchandising department. Whatever the reason, a few quick searches and you can get your hands on one. And therein lay the rub for this collector. I always wanted this particular version (I’ll explain below) and it was on Classic Football Shirts for ages. So much so, that I put it off…and put it off, thinking “I can get it any time”. Predictably, when I eventually went for it, it was gone. So when this popped up on Ebay a while ago, I decided procrastination couldn’t be a barrier.
So why this shirt? Well for no other reason other than it was the shirt worn by Latvia when they famously (and surprisingly) qualified for EURO 2004. For some countries on this quest, any shirt will do. For other countries, something will draw me to a specific shirt. That finals appearance in Portugal provided that attraction in this instance.
While it is a nice shirt, it isn’t exactly a design classic. Kit nerds (as if anyone else would be reading this) will probably notice the slight difference in crests between the match shirt and replicas. The replica has a white outer band, and green oak branches, while the match issue shirts had a maroon outer and gold leaves. The crest on the replica is actually the one that was used on kits up to 2004 (including warm-up games for the championships themselves). I presume that whatever teamwear company was supplying the Latvian FA with Adidas kits (perhaps Adidas supplied directly, but doubtful), foresaw the massive demand that would occur and prepared the replicas before the slight alteration to the crest was made for the tournament itself. I’ve also seen one or two replicas with embroidered crests, but the match-issue shirts were heat pressed just like this (so-too were the previous kits).
Despite their qualification being a surprise, the team did acquit itself well at the championships, even if they failed to win a game. Two of their three competitions would reach the semi-finals (Czech Republic and Netherlands), while the other team was Germany. A tough ask of any nation, never mind tournament débutantes. Opening against the Czechs, Latvia took a first half lead, but two Czech goals in the last twenty minutes saw them lose 2-1. Next up was Germany, where Latvia earned a draw but could have taken all three points. The dominant Dutch proved a game too far, and Latvia collapsed to a 3-0 loss. Still, a famous draw against Germany wasn’t a bad return.
To date, Latvia remain the only European side to reach a European championships, but not a World Cup. They did come very close though, pre USSR. Latvia had finished runner-up to Austria during qualification for the 1938 World Cup in France. However, Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria before the tournament started led to Austria’s withdrawal. Rather than inviting Latvia to take Austria’s place, FIFA offered it to England, who hadn’t even entered qualifying. After England turned it down, FIFA decided to leave the space empty, preferring to offer Sweden a bye into the second round. You’d understand it if the Latvians felt a little bit annoyed.