Love Letters to the European Union: Three Million

On the 29th March 2019, the United Kingdom is (currently) scheduled to exit the European Union. To celebrate forty-six years of peacetime and prosperity in Europe, this season we’ll be profiling the footballing history of each remaining member of the EU, looking at some of their most iconic matches and the players that have left a lasting impression on the game. It’s another Baltic boogie this week, as we hop over the border from Krasti to Totokalnis and explore a nation that boasts the oldest language in the world, names it’s national dish after the zeppelin warship, and dyes its water green for St Patrick’s Day. It’s Lietuvos valstybė!

 

The Player: Edgaras Jankauskas

SEASON 2006/2007 HEARTS Edgaras Jankauskas

Over a twenty year career, taking in sixteen clubs in ten different countries, Edgaras Jankauskas made his name as Lithuania’s first trail-blazing footballer. By sixteen he’d already been snapped up by FK Žalgiris, the biggest club in the capital and winners of the first two Lithuanian A Lyga in ’91 and ’92. Despite his tender age, Jankauskas was soon making a name for himself, netting 41 times in 93 games for Žalgiris, and earning himself a move to CSKA Moscow in ’96. A record of one in two at CSKA saw city rivals Torpedo Moscow secure the young striker’s services for the following season, and another fruitful return had the rest of Europe monitoring his progress. A move to Club Brugge in 1997 would spark the beginning of Jankauskas’ meteoric rise. Eight goals in seventeen appearances helped the Blauw-Zwart secure the Belgian League title, and in 2000 Real Sociedad moved to make the striker the most expensive Lithuanian footballer of all time, shelling out €2.4 million to bring him to San Sebastián.

Though not exactly a flop in La Liga, with nineteen goals in fifty-six games, Sociedad manager John Toshack preferred to pair De Paula with former Sheffield Wednesday forward Darko Kovačević. As a result, Jankauskas was shipped out on loan to Portugal with Benfica, scoring the equaliser on his debut against Varzim in a 3-2 win at the Estádio da Luz. A further seven goals followed, including the opener in the Lisbon derby against eventual champions Sporting, further enhancing his reputation as a clinical goalscorer. That impressive spell was enough to secure a permanent move over the border, but it was FC Porto and their up and coming manager that won the race for the Lithuanian’s signature.

Having impressed at the unfancied União Desportiva de Leiria, Jose Mourinho had been tasked with the job of restoring Porto as the top dogs in the Primera Liga, and Jankauskas arrived alonside Nuno Espirito Santo, Maniche, Derlei and Paulo Ferraira to shape the new manager’s vision. Though not as prolific as he had previously been, the Lithuanian played a key part in Porto championship, Taca de Portugal and UEFA Cup treble. The following year, with another league title in the bag, Jankauskas would become the first Lithuanian to win the Champions League, watching from the bench as his side battered Monaco 3-0 in Gelsenkirchen.

Mourinho’s departure would spell the end of Jankauskas’ time in Portugal, and after a difficult season in France with Nice, the Lithuanian’s next stop was Edinburgh, joining Hearts on a season long loan and scoring against Hibernian in the Scottish Cup semi-final as the Jam Tarts lifted the trophy for the seventh time. By now well into his thirties, Jankauskas would see out his career in typically nomadic style, spending a year at AEK Larnaca, before taking in spells at Belenenses, Skonto Riga, and REO Vilinus. A season in the MLS with New England Revolution brought the final two goals of the striker’s career, before a ten game scoreless run at Fakel Voronezh in the Russian lower leagues marked the end of his playing career.

A Lithuanian international from the age of sixteen, Jankauskas would earn fifty-six caps for the national team, scoring vital goals against Iceland and Belgium in World Cup qualifiers, though he was unable to match the exploits or longevity of Tomas Danilevičius. Moving into coaching soon after retirement, Jankauskas is currently the manager of the Lithuania national team, though has overseen the nation’s worst ever FIFA ranking, taking them to 148th spot in November last year. Regardless, he remains the most decorated player to have emerged from the Baltic nation.

 

 

The Game: Italy 1-1 Lithuania, 2006

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Like their fellow former Soviet state neighbours, Lithuania joined the international season relatively late, with the 1994 World Cup offering them a first chance at major tournament qualification. Unlike their neighbours, they actually did okay at the first time of asking, drawing their very first qualifier away at Northen Ireland, and beating Latvia and Albania to finish their debut campaign with seven points and a respectable fifth placed finish. In fact, during their first decade as an independent nation, Lithuania outperformed their Baltic neighbours time and again in qualifying. They finished the Euro 96 campaign in third behind Italy and Croatia, and missed out on a play-off spot for France ’98 thanks to Tony Cascarino’s late equaliser against Romania. Results would soon begin to falter however, and having seen Estonia and Latvia catch up with them in the Euro 2000 qualifiers, a winless campaign for the following World Cup was compounded by Latvia’s qualification for Euro 2004. By the time Lithuania prepared to qualify for the following Championships, they’d fallen to the bottom of the Baltic pecking order.

The chances of them emulating their mid-90s vintage in 2006 looked slim. Their warm-up for the beginning of the Euro 2008 campaign had consisted of a 3-2 defeat in Moldova, and the draw had pitted them against, among others, Ukraine, France and Italy. The latter two had just contested the World Cup final, and lowly Lithuania’s campaign would begin with a trip to the newly crowed world champions.

Italy’s homecoming, in front of 55,000 supporters at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples, saw new manager Roberto Donadoni name a strong line-up to face Algimantas Liubinskas’ minnows. Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo and Filippo Inzaghi made up the spine of the Azzuri’s team, whilst Liubinskas called upon Dynamo Moscow’s Žydrūnas Karčemarskas, FK Tom Tomsk’s Andrius Skerla, Hearts’ midfielder Deividas Česnauskis and Zenit forward Robertas Poškus. Even so, in the opening stages, Lithuania refused to be overawed by their prestigious opponents, with Poškus forcing Buffon into a smart early save. Then, in the 21st minute, the unthinkable happened. A slick passing move found Česnauskis out on the right, and his low driven cross was diverted into the bottom corner by Tomaš Danilevicius, the Lithuanian striker plying his trade in Serie B with Avellino.

The visitors joy was shortlived as Inzaghi equalised nine minutes later, but rather than cave to Italian pressure, Liubinskas’ side continued to look for a winner, with Poškus providing a constant threat. The World Cup holders, too, had their chances, but came up against Karčemarskas in formidable form, with Antonio Cassano and Pirlo being denied time and again by the stopper. At full time, disappointment for the home supporters, but jubilation for Lithuania. An incredible result given their lowly standing on the international stage.

Sadly, Liubinskas’ team were unable to use that surprise point as a springboard for the campaign, losing to Scotland at home in their next game and finishing third bottom in the group, ahead of fellow minnows Georgia and the Faroe Islands. Since the Euro 2008 qualifiers, Lithuania have failed to hit even those heights, with each campaign delivering diminishing returns. Supporters, however, can look back on the night they gave the champions of the world an almighty fright in their own backyard.

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