World Cup 2018: Lithuanian reminder of Scotland failings

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland
Lithuania head coach Edgaras Jankauskas at training
Edgaras Jankauskas is back in Scotland with Lithuania
World Cup qualifying Group F: Scotland v Lithuania
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Saturday, 8 October Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Scotland, BBC 5 live, BBC Sport website & app

Scotland will take on a familiar foe on Saturday when they face Lithuania in their second World Cup qualifier.

Indeed, the Baltic nation has formed a big sub-plot in the Scots' trials and tribulations on the world and European stage.

Not because they boast a particularly good record against the side now coached by Gordon Strachan - they have only beaten the Scots once.

But because they have been there since day zero; that being Saturday 5 September 1998.

Scotland's first qualifier for a place at Euro 2000 happened to be their first competitive match since the St Etienne slaughtering dished out by Morocco at the World Cup in France less than three months previously.

The opposition? Lithuania. For the first time. And with six starters from the Moroccan mauling in the visitors' team.

The goalless draw that Craig Brown's side would endure in Vilnius provided merely the 'hors d'oeuvre' to almost two decades of major championship misery for a starved nation.

Scotland's Colin Hendry tackles Lithuania's Grazvydas Mikullenas
Scotland drew their first meeting with Lithuania 0-0 in 1998

The Lithuanians took a point that day knowing they had previously completed their best-ever qualification campaign on the road to France.

They hoped it pointed to an eventual finals' spot and, while they have failed in that mission so far, the ambition remains, fuelled by the arrival of one man in the dugout.

A familiar foe deserves a familiar face and Edgaras Jankauskas certainly provides that.

The former Hearts striker, coach and 2006 Scottish Cup winner was in the Lithuania side that frustrated Brown's team 18 years ago and is arguably the former Soviet state's most revered footballer.

That the Champions League winner at Porto in 2004 is now in charge of the national team has ignited belief in the country that what seemed like an impossible dream could be touched by reality.

Jankauskas has steadied the ship since his arrival in January.

His predecessor, Igoris Pankratjevas, resigned a year ago after failing to make an impact on their Euro 2016 qualifying group, which also featured England and Slovenia, both of whom Jankauskas is locking horns with in Scotland's section this time round.

And, while wins have been hard to come by - they have only two in two years, against Estonia and San Marino - the proof the effect the new man in charge is having is shown by their last two results.

Scotland v Lithuania previous meetings:All in European Championship qualifiers
September 1998: Lithuania 0-0 ScotlandOctober 1999: Scotland 3-0 Lithuania
April 2003: Lithuania 1-0 ScotlandOctober 2003: Scotland 1-0 Lithuania
September 2006: Lithuania 1-2 ScotlandSeptember 2007: Scotland 3-1 Lithuania
September 2010: Lithuania 0-0 ScotlandSeptember 2011: Scotland 1-0 Lithuania

A goalless draw with Poland in Krakow before the Poles' summer excursion to the Euro 2016 finals in France and an opening 2-2 draw with Slovenia have provided reason for optimism.

Indeed, the latter should have been a victory and would have been but for two carelessly defended headers in Vilnius as a 2-0 lead was surrendered by the home team.

The match was difficult enough for the visitors that Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec was moved to insist that others will drop points to Lithuania during this campaign.

Other faces in the visiting camp this weekend will also be remembered by Hearts fans in particular, with defender Deividas Cesnauskis - who like his coach won the Scottish Cup at Hampden in 2006 - and midfielder Arvydas Novikovas among their ranks.

Jankauskas once was the golden boy of Lithuanian football, a role that is currently filled by young striker Lukas Spalvis.

Fortunately for the Scots, the talented 22-year-old signed by Sporting Club de Portugal in the summer is injured and will not feature.

One who is likely to take the field is midfielder Vykintas Slivka, who is on the books of Italian giants Juventus and on loan at Den Bosch in the Netherlands.

Slivka scored his first international goal against the Slovenians last month with a clever finish.

However, it was not as clever as captain Fiodor Cernych's opener just two minutes before, as the Jagiellona Bialystok striker showed his prowess from distance.

Lithuania's Deividas Cesnauskis and Arvydas Novikovas train in Paisley
Deividas Cesnauskis and Arvydas Novikovas played for Hearts

Jankauskas told the Lithuanian media before their departure for Glasgow: "Scotland is a team which will require maximum concentration and defensive discipline.

"I think we have the potential (to win). What do we want from the two matches (Scotland and Malta)? Six points.

"It may happen that we are satisfied with a point having played well and scoring.

"It will be a good challenge to play in a big stadium where we will be able to feel the atmosphere of Scottish football."

The many tiresome international chapters that have been written since the hazy summer of '98 have been frequented by Jankauskas and his fellow Lithuanians.

Scotland have played 89 competitive matches since that 1998 maiden clash in Vilnius.

The 90th must result in the securing of three World Cup points, otherwise the visitors may just leave their mark once again.

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