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Estonian and Latvian clubs go head-to-head in inaugural 'Livonian Winter League'

FC Flora Tallinn.
FC Flora Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi / ERR

Pre-season preparation for teams in Estonian Mesitriliiga and Esiliiga will start a bit differently this year. Instead of the usual Winter Tournament, this January and February, Estonian clubs will be taking part in the Livonian Winter League for the first time, where they will compete against top sides from neighboring Latvia.

The pre-season Livonian Winter League features ten clubs from the top leagues of Estonia and Latvia will take part, as well as the two best sides from the two countries' second divisions.

The teams have been into three leagues, A, B and C, according to their final positions in their respective domestic league tables last season, the Estonian Meistriliiga and Latvian Higher League.

League A of the Livonian Winter League is made up of the top four teams from the two countries, while the sides who ended 2023 in 5th – 8th will be in League B.

League C contains the 9th and 10th placed top-flight clubs, plus the top two from the Estonian Esiliiga and Latvian First League.

2023 Estonian Meistriliiga runners-up FCI Levadia Tallinn and Latvia's Riga FC, who missed out on last year's Latvian title by just one point, will not take their places in the A League and have instead entered reserve sides in the competition's C League.

The change was made following requests from the clubs themselves, as their pre-season preparations will mostly take place outside Estonia and Latvia. FK Auda, who finished third in the Latvian Higher League, have also withdrawn from the competition. Meanwhile, fellow Latvians Valmiera FC will start the winter league with a full squad, but leave for a training camp during the tournament. It therefore remains unclear which players will be left to finish the competition.

Anne Rei, secretary general of the Estonian Football Association (EJL), said the idea for the Livonian Winter League dates back to last spring. "It's a great opportunity to test ourselves against our neighbors. Unlike the Winter Tournament at home, in the Livonian Winter League we will also keep a running tally of the score between the two countries to determine whether Estonia or Latvia wins," said Rei.

"The forthcoming Livonian Winter League will not only help clubs from the two countries to better prepare for the season ahead, but will also be a new step towards honoring and continuing our historical ties and traditions," said Vadims Lašenko, president of the Latvian Football Association.

During the tournament, each team will play four matches, and only face sides from the other country. Two matches will be played at home and the other two away. Teams will also be given six match days during the competition to allow them to plan other training sessions and camps in preparation for the upcoming domestic campaign.

The first match in the Livonian Winter League is on January 16, when Estonian champions FC Flora Tallinn take on FK Liepaja, who finished fifth in the 2023 Latvian Higher League.

The full fixture list and more information can be found on the EJL's website (in Estonian) here.

League A: FC Flora Tallinn, JK Tallinna Kalev, Paide Linnameeskond, Nõmme Kalju FC (Estonia), Rigas FS, Valmiera FC, FK Liepaja and FS Jelgava (Latvia).

League B: Pärnu JK Vaprus, FC Kuressaare, JK Narva Trans, Tartu JK Tammeka (Estonia), BFC Daugavpils, FK Tukums 2000/Telms, FC Metta and Grobinas SC/LFS (Latvia).

League C: Harju JK Laagri, FC Nõmme United, Viimsi JK, FCI Levadia Tallinn U21 (Estonia), Skanstes FK, Riga FC II, SK Super Nova Salaspils and JDFS Alberts (Latvia).

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Editor: Michael Cole

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