England 20-0 Latvia has started a debate on fairness in sport

England Women’s 20-0 thrashing of Latvia’s part-time footballers was an ‘unnecessary humiliation’, says the parent of one losing player… and even England’s coach says the match should NOT have taken place

  • England thrashed Latvia 20-0 in a qualifier for the Women’s World Cup in 2023
  • It was a record score for England but brutally exposed a huge gulf in quality
  • Videos of the Latvian goalkeeper, 17, making errors were posted on Twitter 
  • One of the Latvian player’s parents said the team ‘should play at their own level’
  • Thrashing such as this have become commonplace in women’s football
  • UEFA and FIFA must decide whether the minnows are made to pre-qualify  

England Women’s 20-0 thrashing of Latvia has rightly opened up a debate about the fairness of international sport when world class professionals take on part-timers.

While it was a record-breaking night for the Lionesses, who racked up their biggest-ever score, it led fans, the England manager and even one of the Latvia player’s parents to question the worth of such mismatches.

The parent’s comment, left underneath the report of the game on The Guardian website, read: ‘I am a bit biased (obviously), but everyone should know these girls should play at their own level and develop without unnecessary humiliation… there is something not quite wholesome about the whole business.’

They added that the time may have come for smaller nations where the players are inexperienced and have day jobs alongside playing football to pre-qualify for the right to take on bigger nations such as England.

It cuts to the heart of the matter: Is it right that amateur athletes, some of whom are still teenagers, are embarrassed in such a way in front of a large crowd inside the stadium and tens of thousands watching at home on television?

Should they instead only be matched with opponents of a similar ability so they might have a chance of winning? Or is the painful humiliation actually ‘necessary’ so they may one day improve to England’s level?

The scoreboard tells a humiliating story as England Women’s team thrashed Latvia 20-0 

Latvia goalkeeper Alina Sklemenova can’t bear to look after conceding the 20th goal 


For some of the Latvian players involved, the misery will stretch beyond the 90 minutes.

The goalkeeper who started for Latvia in the World Cup qualifier at Doncaster, 18-year-old Laura Sinutkina, suffered embarrassment enough in conceding eight first-half goals.

But the player who replaced her at half-time, 17-year-old Alina Sklemenova, was not only humiliated by conceding 12 times on her international debut but by having video clips of her mistakes go viral on Twitter.

One was of a clearance that was kicked straight to Manchester United player Alessia Russo, who simply headed the ball back past Sklemenova and into an empty net.

England had 64 shots on the Latvian goal on Tuesday, with 31 on target and 20 finding the net

That was England’s 18th goal of the evening and it came less than 10 seconds after Latvia had kicked-off following the 17th. 

And a video of Sklemenova, thoroughly demoralised with her team now 20-0 down, slicing a goal kick straight out of play, brought more amusement on social media.

In total, England had 64 shots on the Latvian goal (on average, one every 84 seconds), of which 31 were on target and 20 scored. In reply, Latvia had zero of anything.

It isn’t as though such beatings are rare events. In this qualification group alone, England have walloped North Macedonia 8-0, Luxembourg 10-0 and Latvia away from home 10-0. They then took that score and doubled it on Tuesday night.

England have now scored 53 goals in six qualifying matches for the tournament, which will be staged jointly between Australia and New Zealand in 2023.

England have scored 30 goals past part-timers Latvia in two World Cup qualifier against them

It isn’t just England, either. In the same group, Northern Ireland beat North Macedonia 9-0 at home and 11-0 away, while Austria have hit eight goals in two matches.

Elsewhere, France scored 11 times against Estonia and 10 against Greece. The Republic of Ireland beat Georgia 11-0, Spain thrashed the Faroe Islands 12-0 and Belgium hit double figures against Armenia.

The cavernous gulf between the top countries, who boast professional players, deep talent pools and proper facilities, and the minnows who have none of those things, appears bigger than ever.

The comment on the Guardian claimed just 200 women play football in Latvia and the national team is only able to train twice a week because their players must work and, in some cases, go to school. Is it any wonder there is such a divide?

It isn’t a phenomenon unique to women’s football. England men’s team recently scored 10 goals against San Marino but such results are increasingly fewer and further between.

England also scored 10 goals in a match against Luxembourg earlier in World Cup qualifying

The 20-0 scoreline even left England head coach Sarina Wiegman questioning whether such games were worthwhile.

‘Of course you want competitive games and these are not competitive games,’ she said.

‘We want to develop well-developed countries and the countries that are not that far on, so in every country you want to develop the women’s game.

‘But I don’t think it’s good that the scores are so high. I know that has the attention of the federations and UEFA, FIFA and I think that’s good because I don’t think 20-0 is good for the development of anyone.’

It is certainly a problem for European football’s governing body UEFA and the global overseers of the game, FIFA.

On the one hand, Latvia and others on the receiving end of these humiliations are sovereign nations and, as such, have an equal right to try and qualify for major tournaments such as the World Cup and the European Championship.

Even the England coach Sarina Wiegman questioned the purpose of such one-sided matches

For the players in their teams, football offers an unrivalled opportunity to travel and see the world even if work commitments precluded several Latvian players from coming over to England on this occasion.

But UEFA and FIFA are acutely aware that one-sided games are a turn-off for viewers at home and fans who buy tickets. 

If interest drains away, it will affect commercial revenues that are fed back into developing the women’s game.

While the governing bodies are committing more money to countries without professional players and clubs, there are no guarantees the gap will ever be bridged.

And there must be a limit as to how many double-digit defeats players can take before they fall out of love with the game.

England reached the semi-finals of the last World Cup, losing to the United States 

One solution is to make smaller countries play each other in pre-qualifying to then progress to a second phase which will see them take on bigger and better countries.

This will mean more games against opponents of similar standard and would mean countries like England arrive at tournaments better prepared having been tested by stronger teams.

An example from the men’s game – the UEFA Nations League – could be replicated for women’s teams.

This ranks each nation on ability into four Leagues and ensures each game is against opposition of similar standard. 

It also keeps the incentive of a qualifying place so playing in a major tournament isn’t just an impossible dream for the minnows.

But to implement such a split would require agreement from a host of smaller countries and they would be reluctant to give up glamour games against the likes of England, Spain and France, which draw in money and interest.

We have reached a tipping point, however, and a solution that lead to fewer humiliations for the likes of Latvia and better contests for the likes of England needs to be found.

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