Lietuva / Lithuania
- Capital: Vilnius
- Official Languages: Lithuanian
- Nicknames: Rinktine (National Team)
- Association: Lietuvos Futbolo Federacija (LFF)
- FIFA Code: LTU
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 37th (October 2008)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 60th (December 2004)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 148th (November 2017)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 108th (April 2021)
- Most Capped Player: Saulius Mikoliūnas – 85 caps [as of May 2021]
- Top Scorer: Tomas Danilevičius – 19 goals
The Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublika) is the most southerly and largest in terms of area and population of the three Baltic countries that are situated on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. The country shares land borders with a number of countries with its fellow Baltic nation of Latvia to its north, Belarus to its east and southeast, former Commonwealth partner Poland to its south, and the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave of Russia to Lithuania’s southwest. Lithuania has a long history within Europe starting with its extensive Grand Duchy, to the famous Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which existed between 1569 to 1791, to then being partitioned as a part of the Russian Empire, and then annexed in 1940 to become a socialist republic within the Soviet Union. Having had their independence declared in 1918, it was restored once more in 1990 as the USSR was quickly disintegrating into its constituent parts. The LFF had originally became a member of FIFA in 1923 during their brief period of independence in the early 20th century, but rejoined again in 1992 along with full membership of UEFA in the same year.
Since its readmittance to FIFA in the early 90s, Lithuania have yet to qualify for either a World Cup or European Championships. They first attempted to qualify for the 1994 World Cup although they came the closest to qualifying in the mid-to-late 1990s with some of their best performances during the qualification phases. They finished third in their group for the Euro 1996 qualifying, winning five and drawing one of their ten group games but were five points away from qualification. They were much nearer to progressing in qualifying for the 1998 World Cup when they were within a single point of earning themselves a playoff spot but a 2-1 home defeat to the Republic of Ireland in the penultimate group game ultimately cost them the spot in the playoffs.
That would be the nearest the Rinktine would come to qualifying for a major tournament as despite the occasional decent result or performance against Europe’s big teams, the overall performance of the national team has steadily decreased (especially in the 2010s) and resulted in the Lithuanian team now becoming one of the weaker teams within European football. They are scheduled to play in League C of the next edition of the UEFA Nations League despite finishing third in their group, and in the 2022 World Cup draw, they were ranked as one of the lowest teams in ‘Pot 5’. Ultimately Lithuania were drawn as the lowest-ranked side in a difficult group containing Italy, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, and Bulgaria. With progression to Qatar looking unlikely, it may be a great chance to progress a seemingly talented generation of young players into the senior squad to gain international experience. If the potential of such highly-rated players are to be fulfilled, then it is likely the performances and results of the Lithuanians may drastically improve in the near future…
Talking about one of the Baltic states who sadly seem to be going through a very tough time in terms of results and world rankings, but also seem to be enthusistic for the future due to a generation of talented youngsters slowly progressing into the senior national team, is the excellent Fútbol Báltico. They are an Spanish-language Twitter account that reports on all things involving football being played in the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well Baltic players in foreign leagues and the fortunes of the three national teams. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @FutbolBaltico_
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
Well I choose Edgaras Jankauskas as the best ever player in my opinion. Despite not being the player with the most goals scored or the most games played for the Lithuanian national team, he always contributed a lot to the team’s game, and his club career supports it [playing for CSKA Moscow, Torpedo Moskva, Club Brugge, Real Sociedad, Benfica, Porto, and Hearts to name a few]. Not everyone gets to play for the teams in which he played. For the greatest-ever manager, my pick is Algimantas Liubinskas, because with him Lithuania had their best time getting to be placed as the 37th best national team in the FIFA World Rankings and also being close to participating in Euro 2008.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
For a lot of people, it easily could be Edgaras Jankauskas as he has been a star for the FK Žalgiris and national team. For such a small country like Lithuania, to have been so successful in a global sport like football, it’s not easy and so they appreciate what he made with his career.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Lithuania currently?
Difficult to choose only one player but I pick Tomas Švedkauskas [26-year-old goalkeeper currently playing for Belgian side Lommel]. Nowadays, Lithuania is usually weaker than their rivals in games so having a great goalkeeper like Švedkauskas in your goal ensures that it will be difficult for an opponent to score a goal, and if they do break through, it will not be many times and keeping a clean sheet is always a great achievement.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Considering the talent we have, it’s not bad currently but, of course, it could be better, but having difficulties creating goals doesn’t help. Also the defense is sometimes riddled with a mixture of weakness and bad luck, and that is not something that comes in handy when attempting to beat teams.
Q. Are there any Lithuanian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
I think the next generation of players could be very good so they are many names that I think can be decisive for Lithuanian national team in the future:
- Paulius Golubickas – 21-year-old attacking midfielder currently on loan at Dainava from Slovenian side HNK Gorica.
- Titas Krapikas – 22-year-old goalkeeper playing for Italian Serie A side Spezia.
- Linas Mėgelaitis – 22-year-old midfielder playing for Italian Serie C side Gubbio.
- Benas Šatkus – 20-year-old centre-back playing for German side 1. FC Nürnberg
- Edgaras Dubickas – 22-year-old forward currently on loan at Italian side Livorno from Lecce.
- Augustinas Klimavičius – 20-year-old midfielder currently on loan at Italian side Empoli from Genoa.
- Motiejus Burba – 18-year-old forward currently on loan at FK Nevėžis from FK Žalgiris.
- Titas Milašius – 20-year-old midfielder currently on loan at Polish club Skra Częstochowa from Wisła Płock
All of them are 22-years-old or younger, and a lot of them are playing for Italian teams or playing on loan at smaller clubs. Some of them have already played with the senior team but the rest continue to play with the youth categories of the national team.
Q. Looking at Lithuania’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
As I said before, the classification of the Euro 2008 qualifying [when Lithuania finished fifth in a seven-team group but achieved five wins and one draw against the then recently crowned world champions Italy in Napoli] was when we saw the best performance of Lithuanian national team so far.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Sadly I think that nowadays it is the worst Lithuania we’ve ever saw. The current generation of players within the national team is simply not good, and with a FIFA World Ranking of 134th now, we are getting near to our worst rating which was 148th a few years ago. I hope that the next generation make Lithuania great again.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Lithuanian national team?
The best thing currently is to achieve a victory. It is not something that happens frequently and when it happens it is time to celebrate it, it is a bit sad but it is reality.
The worst thing, it is heartbreaking to see your team that you know can’t give any more and still nothing is achieved. Many times you end up sad after seeing the team play, because after waiting with excitement for the day of the game to arrive and then ending up crushed, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And what I said is something that a fan of any small team can relate to.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
I don’t really know, it’s possible but I can’t confirm it.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
I don’t have a favourite but the most recent ones we currently have are very good and clean designs, also the one they used between 1997-1999 is one design that I particularly like a lot.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Lithuanian national team?
I think that Lithuania will get better when the youngsters progress into the national team. I’m sure that they can improve the quality of the side to the point that we could potentially participate in the European Championships like our neighbour, Latvia, did in 2004. That achievement would be massive for Lithuania if the national side can make it happen.
A massive labai ačiū to Fútbol Báltico for answering our questions on the Rinktine. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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