The recent success of the Western Sydney Warriors football club in the Asian Champions League has added to Australia’s growth in the world game.
Eimantas Poderis ("FBK Kaunas")
© ELTA (A.Koroliovo nuotr.)

Not only did this vocal franchise become the first Australian club to take out the continental title since the nation had transferred to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006; but it did so in less than three years since establishment.

Add on the fact that Australia has played off in the last three world cup tournaments and revamped its domestic league to feature names such as Alessandro Del Pierro (Italy), David Villa (Spain), Emile Heskey (England) and Darvydas Šernas (Lithuania) and we have proof that a nontraditional football nation can revamp its cattle.

Now enter Lithuania, a basketball crazed nation where it’s vocal indoor-stadium crowds conquers the round ball game on pitches ravaged by snow and midst each year.

It can be argued that Lithuania’s highest footballing achievement was an appearance in the 1924 Olympics however even this tournament was a dismal affair for the Baltic nation; eliminated 9:0 to Switzerland in the first game.

A ban from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, courtesy of the host nation’s leader Adolf Hitler, would then be followed half a century of Soviet Occupation; leaving Lithuania to also revamp its footballing image in the 1990s.

Though there may not be many International trophies outside of the Baltic Cup (played against Estonia, Latvia and now Finland) there have been a few moments of excellence.

Amongst these highlights was on this day in 1996 when Lithuania would play off against an Asian nation before a vocal crowd of 1,500 in Vilnius.

Three weeks earlier Lithuania had played off against its first non-European opponent in Brazil, falling short to the world champions and the legend of Ronaldo who scored a hat trick of goals in the 3:1 affair.

Brazil v. Lithuania in 1996:

There would be no disappointment for the patrons at the Žalgiris Stadium on this day however as Lithuania conquered its first ever Asian opponent, Indonesia.

A final score line of 4:0 for the home nation may have been justified by their opponents ranking of 117th in the world (Lithuania was 45th) but, more importantly, its governing body at the time opted for the friendly matches.

Goal-scorers:

Darius Maciulevičius opened the scoring by registering what would be his 6th of 8 International goals (26’) three days before turning 24. The midfielder would go onto be recruited by Russian club FC Alania Vladikavkaz the following year.

Igoris Kirilovas then added to the goal sheet (37’), the FBK Kaunas star’s only goal across a 27 game International game career.

Highly decorated Lithuania domestic league player Eimantas Poderis launched a goal moments before the main break (42’), he too would enjoy a short stint in Russia with Maciulevičius before making an immediate return to his home nation.

Rimantas Žvingilas was amongst five players subbed on an hour into the game, he would go onto kick his final International goal (73’).

Looking to the future, both Lithuania and Australia have embarked on long journeys with hopes of earning respect in the round ball game.

Lithuania’s demise in Intercontinental participation in the last 15 years has been costly however this week does mark the first time the Baltic nation has been ranked higher than Australia in FIFA history.

Australia, who will host the 2015 Asian Cup, has plummeted down ten places to be ranked 94th this month while Lithuania, who cruised past San Marino 2:0 and Estonia 1:0 last month rose from 103rd to 92nd.

Žalgiris Stadium
Žalgiris Stadium
© DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika
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