When soccer managers say there are no longer any easy games on the international stage, they may well have Lithuania in mind! The team may be among the minnows in Euro and World Cup qualification, but more established nations will write them off at their peril. With their fans’ realistic expectations and high hopes, Lithuania know they’re better off than many competitors - they have the license to play to their strengths, which is often a recipe for exciting soccer. Supporters know that each qualifying group could – maybe should – bring at least one big giant-killing, so there’s every reason to travel in hope. It’s an exciting time to follow the team, so look for Lithuania tickets at StubHub!
Lithuania and soccer – a story of history and identity
When your country only regained its independence in 1990, every anthem and kick-off is a reason to celebrate. There was scarcely time for the new nation to establish itself in the 1920s and 30s before the Second World War and incorporation into the Soviet Union seemed to have ended the country’s sporting history. Returning to FIFA membership in 1992, the country initially had some legacy of state support. But like many former Soviet Bloc countries, Lithuania has found the going tough, with other national priorities ahead of soccer.
Nonetheless, the squad has continued to develop, with a good mix of players from Lyga A and others gaining experience and trying their fortunes in the higher European divisions. The much-traveled Tomas Danilevicius, who set the country’s international scoring record, is typical of the foreign export’s range of experience, turning out for teams as different as Arsenal, Dunfermline, Livorno, and Beveren.
Expectations of the national team may be modest, but they don’t see themselves as making up the numbers. Away draws against Germany and Italy in the 2004 and 2008 Euro qualifiers had promised much, but a slide down the FIFA rankings had given fans little to cheer about until the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Scotland have had some strange experiences of soccer in the Baltic – once left alone on the pitch in Tallinn when Estonia failed to field a team – but they were nearly undone by Lithuania at home in 2016. Playing at the 50,000-seat Hampden Park, in contrast to the 5,000-seat LFF Stadium, Lithuania rose to the occasion. They threatened with measured build-ups before scoring a beautiful team goal. Vykintas Slivka’s composed hold-up play found Vaitkunas, before a sweetly weighted one-two between Slivka and Fiodor Ivanovič Černych. The captain had scored a stunning goal against Slovenia the month before, and continued his good form, rifling a low shot into the net.