Football: Lithuania to end 90-year drought

However, unlike the Baltic nation’s previous opponents this year in San Marino, Estonia and Slovenia; the Swiss have not faced off against Lithuania since the 1924 Summer Olympics.

See story.

As that historic match took place in Paris, resulting in a 9:0 victory for the eventual finalist, this weekend’s qualifier will be Lithuania’s first against the Swiss in Switzerland.

It will not be Lithuania’s first game in the country though as the Baltic nation played off against Russia in the Swiss city of Nyon for an International friendly (scores level 0:0) in May, 2012.

On a smaller scale in 1996, Lithuanian International stars Stasys Baranauskas and Vidas Dančenka both scored for Kareda Šiauliai against Sion in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

They would be no match for the host side however as Sion marched on to capture a memorable 4:2 win before the two sides then played off in a scoreless draw on Lithuanian soil.

Initially the Swiss were equal favourites in this qualifying group with England after advancing to the Round of 16 at the World Cup.

Some experts believe the Swiss may have even advanced further if not for Ángel Di Maria who scored Argentina’s match opening, closing and winning goal at the 118th minute.

However shock defeats to England (2:0) and Slovenia (1:0) have not only seen the powerhouse drop from 6th to 12th on the FIFA World rankings but also ranked 4th below Lithuania in this qualification group.

Though Lithuania has returned to the top 100 for the first time since August, 2012, they will still enter this qualifier as severe underdogs (paying at 11-1 odds).

Players to watch:

#13 Saulius Mikoliūnas

The demise of veterans Tomas Danilevičius and Marius Stankevičius at International level hasn’t been easy for Mikoliūnas however after a few years of resilience the hard work has finally paid off.

The 30-year-old is one of the few remaining Lithuanian players to have experienced the nation’s exciting form of the mid 2000s which included a 3:0 win over Romania, 2:0 win over Austria and remarkable 1:1 draw against Italy; ending the Azzurri’s winning streak from the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Initially the multi talented Mikoliūnas was selected at International level because of his consistency at FBK Kaunas and Hearts; playing 102 games in the Scottish Premier League.

However he continued to put in one hundred percent for his nation during its darkest hours in recent years and combined for 94 games in the Ukrainian league with sides Arsenal Kyiv and Sevastopol.

Now a new recruit to the Belorussian top tier, Mikoliūnas has revamped his game and has already kicked a goal for Lithuania in this tournament (the winner against Estonia in Vilnius).

He will proudly represent Lithuania for the 71st time this Saturday to be equal third of all time with Danilevičius and a fraction behind his former teammates Andrius Skerla (84) and Deividas Šemberas (82).

#4 Tadas Kijanskas

As mentioned above, the demise of leadership at top level was a key cause for Lithuania to record its lowest FIFA ranking in history of 119th in November, 2012.

This was in the midst of a twelve month period which would see the nation led by three separate managers off the field and six different captains on the pitch.

Fortunately, Tadas Kijanskas will line-up for his 12th straight International match as captain and is expected to continue the fine example he has set to his peers.

The 29-year-old has also put Lithuania on the map in the Israeli league having recorded 32 games with Hapoel Haifa in defence; even sneaking up and scoring two goals…

I suppose we can now forgiven for scoring an own goal against Spain!

#9 Deivydas Matulevičius

Two goals in the last two months at International level can only prove Matulevičius has kept his mantle from 2013 as his nation’s preferred striker.

However the question remains of the 25-year-old giant – can he score against the Swiss?

Well, he has scored 20 goals so far for Pandurii Târgu Jiu in his two seasons within the Romanian league therefore anything is possible.

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