World Cup qualifiers are always going to be tough for Lithuania. The country is basketball mad, so most of the resources are funnelled into grass-roots basketball. As a result, there aren’t many top-quality footballers left to represent the national side.
Still, Lithuanians are patriotic people who take pride in seeing the Rinktine perform for the nation on the biggest stage. So far, it hasn’t happened as Lithuania currently falls at the bottom of Group C with zero points. That can all change against Bulgaria in the next round of qualifiers in a couple of weeks, though.
Home Advantage Against a Weaker Side
As Lithuania fans, we can dream about taking on Italy and Switzerland and claiming three points, yet it won’t happen often. The Azzurri are odds-on to win the group and Switzerland are strong favorites to qualify second. The team needs to be realistic and target equally-matched opponents. In this case, it’s Northern Ireland, who recently beat the national team 4-1 away from home, and Bulgaria.
Northern Ireland will be the last fixture on Matchday 8, but it will be at Windsor Park. Bulgaria, on the other hand, will travel to the LFF Stadium in October after only managing to scrape past Valdas Urbonas’ side 1-0. The scoreline’s the team’s joint-best performance so far, making Bulgaria a beatable national team.
Plus, they have only won once in their last 12 outings, which means they aren’t a squad filled with confidence. Form and skill-wise, the Bulgarians undoubtedly represent Lithuania’s best chance at securing World Cup Qualifying points.
Opponents Recovering from Injuries
You may make an argument for the game against Switzerland at home, as well as the match in Belfast. After all, the Swiss only beat Ivanauskas’ men by the same number of goals in St. Gallen back in March. At the least, it represents hope, as does the fact that they have drawn the last two without scoring.
There’s a bit of a caveat, however, as three of their main players withdrew from the squad due to injuries, including Xherdan Shaqiri. Northern Ireland had a similar problem with Jonny Evans after he suffered a foot injury in the FA Cup final in May. But, by the time October rolls around, all the footballers mentioned will be most likely recovered and ready to go.
Strengthening already strong squads makes them harder to beat. Everyone understands Shaqiri’s attacking attributes because he’s a Champions League winner, yet Evans’ defensive skills are essential too. Just look at Leicester’s Premier League betting odds for finishing in the top six. At +125, the Foxes are projected to squeeze into Europe in front of Arsenal. Not conceding will be vital, and the experienced Evans will shore up the defense when he slots back into the team in a few weeks.
A football team full of confidence shouldn’t be underestimated. Okay, Lithuania may not be the cock of the walk right now, but the previous game against Bulgaria meant a lot. It showed that they can compete with the Bulgarians.
What’s important about the last meeting is the proximity to the next game. It’s only about a month away, which means the performance will still be fresh in the players’ minds. If they can harness the positive thoughts, there’s no reason they can’t secure a victory.
Anything can happen in football, so a win may happen in the final two games. We need to wait and see. However, fans shouldn’t be too pessimistic regarding the boys’ chances.