The Sorry State of Football in Lithuania

Playing football. By Abigail Keenan from Unsplash

Lithuanian football desperately needs more investment. In a country where Basketball is the most popular national sport by a huge margin, football weighs in, in second place. Having said that, though, it is very much the poorer relation. The problem is the state of Lithuanian league football.

Because the funding is so very poor, they rely heavily either on Lithuanian born players or rejects from foreign football leagues who couldn’t make the grade in their own countries. It is not the sort of atmosphere that attracts our nurtures homegrown talent.

As a result, no Lithuanian football club has ever made it through the qualifying stages of the UEFA Cup or the Champions League. Add to that the situation whereby the A Lyga is often the source of scandals and betting fraud, and it is clear to see why the game struggles.

Panevėžio Ekranas was the top team in the early 2010s but was declared bankrupt in 2015. FKK Kaunus was another top side that came to grief. In 2008 they beat Glasgow Rangers by 2-1 in the Champions League to make it through to the third stage of the qualifying rounds. 

But through the misdealings of owner Vladimir Romanov, who was also part owner of Heart of Midlothian, they were expelled from the league. It’s easy to see why Lithuanian players struggle to establish themselves and improve.

Lithuania’s national side suffers as a result, but every now and again, they do have successes. They beat Kazakhstan in November 2020 by 2-1 in the Nations League, and before that, in September 2020, again in the Nations League, they beat Albania 1-0, a team just beaten by England, 2-0. In between, they also beat Estonia by 3-1 in an exhibition game. So, there is potential.

Unfortunately, the national team was beaten 1-0 a few days ago by Switzerland in a FIFA World Cup qualifier. The start of the game was delayed by 5 minutes due to wrong sized goalposts. When the game got underway, Xherdan Shaqiri, the Swiss player who plays his football at Liverpool, scored a goal after just two minutes.

Perhaps another goalkeeper might have stopped it. There are not many Lithuanian players on the big soccer stage. Only one, in fact, and he plays in Italy’s Serie A for Spezia. It is 22-year-old, Titas Krapikas. 

The young keeper has represented his country at the U17s, 19s and 21s, but is yet to make it into the senior side. Why is anyone’s guess? Top-quality goalkeepers can make all the difference. Between them, Alisson and Ederson have a clean sheet record of nearly 50%. If only Lithuania could have kept a clean sheet against Switzerland, they would have kept hopes alive for qualifying for Qatar. That now looks nigh on impossible.

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