LITHUANIA are ready and willing to help Scotland’s cause by beating the Czech Republic in Kaunas this evening, a result which would guarantee Craig Levein’s side a Euro 2012 play-off berth.
Victory for the Lithuanians would render Scotland’s result against Spain in Alicante irrelevant, and the former Hearts winger Deividas Cesnauskis explained today how his compatriots aim to end their campaign successfully.
Defeat at Hampden Park last month coupled with their failure to record a victory from two meetings with Liechtenstein means Lithuania have long since dropped out of contention in Group I. However, their sense of national pride remains fierce.
Cesnauskis, speaking exclusively to the Evening News, outlined the staunch determination within Raimondas Zutautas’ squad to finish a disappointing campaign positively.
“We fight for our pride now,” said Cesnauskis, who is attempting to overcome illness to play this evening. “We lost against Scotland and we could not win against Liechtenstein so we are not in a good position now. If we beat the Czechs we can begin to feel like a team again, that would be good for us.
“If we win it would be very good to help Scotland. But I don’t think about Scotland when I am playing in this game, I only think about giving my best so that Lithuania can do something and win the game.
“It would be great for Lithuania to win and it would make us happy. If we can help Scotland, okay, it would be great. We will just go out to play football. Helping Scotland is a bonus, and then maybe next time we are in the same group Scotland will say ‘thankyou very much’.”
Lithuania harbour the psychological advantage of having already beaten the Czech Republic. In September last year, Darvydas Šernas’ first-half header secured a 1-0 victory in Olomouc as goalkeeper Zydrunas Karcemarskas saved a penalty. It was a monumental achievement.
“Like always we will try to show our best and try to win the game,” said Cesnauskis, now playing in Azerbaijan with FK Baku. “We did beat Czech Republic last time but this is another game, a different team. I think the Czech Republic team is stronger now and they need to win, so I think they will try to press us and score goals. They will not sit back.”
Lithuania regrettably failed to build on that success away to the Czechs and have amassed just five points – one more than part-time Liechtenstein – from seven qualifying games to date.
Zutautas is guiding the former Soviet nation through a transitional period. Experienced figures, such as Cesnauskis’ former Hearts colleague Edgaras Jankauskas, have long been consigned to history. Able replacements have hitherto been thin on the ground.
One prospect exciting the nation is the current Hearts winger Arvydas Novikovas. His emergence as a talent for the future eases the pressure somewhat on Zutautas, whose position has been called into question by Lithuanian media.
“Novikovas is a very good player, he is one of the young players for the future of Lithuania,” said Cesnauskis. “He will become an important player. He is good technically, he can shoot and he is fast. There are many young players in the squad. When young players come to the national team they are hungry and they want to play. They try to show their best all the time and they fight for a place in the team. We are enjoying that.
“We have trained and prepared well for the Czech game. We will see if we are ready.”
Leaving Zutautas open to criticism are some of his decisions, like deploying a stereotypical winger like Cesnauskis at right-back.
“I play as a defender for the national team. That has been my regular place under this coach. When I play for my club team in Baku, I play right midfield which is where I played for Hearts.
“The Lithuania coach asks me to play in this position and I am happy to play there for him.” If he plays and stifles the Czechs tonight, Cesnauskis might hear his defensive qualities being praised all the way from the country he used to call home. Scotland, as ever, could use all the help they can get.