Stephen Kenny knows all too well not to underestimate Lithuania

In a dreadful 2021 Lithuania lost seven of their eight qualifiers but they’re improving

Last weekend as Ireland chose to begin their programme for 2022 by hosting the best side in the world, Lithuania took exactly the opposite approach by travelling to San Marino to play the worst team on the planet.

The 2-1 win provided a timely confidence boost following a dreadful 2021 in which they lost seven of their eight World Cup qualifiers and finished bottom of their group by a margin of five points - leaving them sandwiched between Rwanda and Ethiopia at number 137 in the Fifa rankings.

Lithuania joined Fifa in August, 1923 at the same time as Ireland and made their tournament debut at the following year's Olympics losing 9-0 to Switzerland in the first round. Understandably reluctant to leave Paris so quickly, Lithuania arranged a friendly match against Egypt that they lost 10-0 - a result that remains their record defeat nearly a century later.

Lithuania entered the World Cup for the first time in 1934 taking a pragmatic approach to qualifying by not playing their final group game against Estonia as Sweden had already beaten both countries to secure the sole qualifying spot.


Lithuania have never beaten Ireland with the countries being grouped together in qualifying for both the 1994 and 1998 World Cups. Ireland won three of the four matches with Lithuania securing a creditable 0-0 draw at Lansdowne Road on their last visit to Dublin in 1997.

This contributed to Lithuania’s best ever performance as they finished third in the group on 17 points, just one point behind Ireland who secured a place in the play-offs.

A number of the visitors' squad did experience victory over Ireland when Lithuania beat Ireland 3-1 in an under-21 European Championships qualifier in November 2015. However, perhaps the most memorable victory over tonight's visitors secured by an Irish manager occurred in September 2009 when Brian Kerr led his Faroe Islands side to a 2-1 win over Lithuania securing their first competitive victory for 2,930 days.


Augustinas Klimavicius' goal just 13 minutes into his debut against San Marino on Friday night was an important sign of progress for a low scoring Lithuanian team. They did score the only goal of the game on their most recent visit to the island of Ireland last November when they played Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier but unfortunately it was an own goal scored by defender Benas Šatkus.

One potential solution to this problem was inadvertently provided in their qualifier against Switzerland exactly a year ago when goalposts that were too big were installed. Unfortunately, an alert Uefa inspector noticed the error just before kick-off and the match was delayed to enable replacements to be found.

This lack of goals does little to increase the appeal of football in a country where high scoring basketball remains by far the most popular sport. Perhaps to guarantee more goals, Lithuania hosted the 2021 Futsal World Cup, the first time that they had ever hosted a Fifa tournament but still finished bottom of their group.

A number of Lithuanians have played in the League of Ireland but the one that Stephen Kenny will never forget is Mindaugas Kalonas

Lithuania's record goal scorer on 19 is Tomas Danilevicius who played three matches for Arsenal under Arsène Wenger and is now president of the Lithuanian FA. Goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis remains the only other Lithuanian to play in the Premier League, making a single appearance as a late substitute for Watford in 2015.

Lithuania's most successful export remains Edgaras Jankauskas who in 2004 became the first Lithuanian to win the Champions League with Porto.

A number of Lithuanians have played in the League of Ireland but the one that Stephen Kenny will never forget is Mindaugas Kalonas. Bohemians were one of the 22 clubs that employed Kalonas during a nomadic career and in November 2008 he became the first Lithuanian to play in an FAI Cup final. Having already won the league, Bohemians went on to complete the double at the RDS at the end of a dramatic final against a Derry City team managed by Kenny.

With the sides deadlocked at 2-2 the final went to penalties for the first time ever and Kalonas scored the winning penalty with his last kick as a Bohemians player. Happier memories for Kenny were created by Karolis Chvedukas who was part of his Dundalk squad that won the double in 2018.

Since August 2021 Lithuania have been managed by Valdas Ivanauskas, who played as a striker against Ireland the last time that the countries met in 1997 and later coached Hearts in Scotland for two years. This was during the ownership of businessman Vladimir Romanov who signed so many of his countrymen that one tabloid nicknamed the club Heart of Mid-Lithuania.

The majority arrived on loan from FC Kaunas, a club that Romanov also owned, but made little impression. One notable exception was Marius Zaliukas who was captain of Hearts when they beat Pat Fenlon's Hibernian side 5-1 to win the 2012 Scottish Cup final.

Like Ireland, Lithuania operate a summer league with a season that runs from March to November. The strongest team in the ‘A Lyga’ are FK Žalgiris who have won the title for the past two years. Owing to the forensic nature of Uefa seedings teams from the League of Ireland have been regularly drawn against Lithuanian opposition in the early rounds of European competition.

The best result for an Irish club came in 2007 when Shelbourne beat FK Vetra 4-0 in the InterToto Cup following an extraordinary match at Tolka Park in which the visitors had three players sent off.

However, in more recent times the Lithuanian teams have held the upper hand as illustrated in 2020 when FK Riteriai beat Derry City 3-2 in the first round of the Europa League qualifiers. And there is a very good reason why despite earning an excellent 2-2 draw with Belgium on Saturday the Irish management team will not underestimate Tuesday night's visitors.

In 2012 Shamrock Rovers played FK Ekranas in the Champions League. The sides drew 0-0 at Tallaght Stadium but a 2-1 win for Ekranas in the second leg saw the Lithuanians unexpectedly progress at the expense of a Rovers side then managed by Stephen Kenny.