Lithuania are in Glasgow to avoid defeat against Scotland. A draw at Hampden Park tonight would be a welcome result for the Eastern Europeans, who openly admit they lack the physical attributes to match Gordon Strachan’s team.
Deividas Cesnauskis, the former Hearts winger who is still a veteran member of the Lithuania squad, admits that was the problem in their opening World Cup qualifying tie last month. Leading 2-0 at half-time at home to Slovenia, they were hauled back to draw 2-2. The potential to cause an upset is there, but the strength isn’t.
“We are coming here not to lose,” said Cesnauskis, speaking to the Evening News after Lithuania’s training session at Glasgow’s Garscube sports complex. “We are coming to give a good fight against Scotland. We fought against Slovenia in the first game and we scored two goals. We did not have the power to keep the lead because the Slovenian team had some big personalities. We expect a big fight against Scotland. Your team has big players playing in the English Premier League. It’s a good test to see how our national team can do now.”
Scotland realistically need to win at home ahead of a hazardous trip to Slovakia on Tuesday. The desire to build on last month’s 5-1 win in Malta and make serious progress towards the 2018 World Cup in Russia is clear. By the time the finals kick off, Scotland won’t have played at a major tournament for two decades.
“Scotland have not qualified for a long time so they have that motivation,” observed Cesnauskis. “We know their situation. I think this group is not very strong in the fight to get second place. Also, England have not shown their best football but, of course, they are a very strong team. I think Scotland can fight for second place and they can achieve this.
“Maybe you expect things now from your team. With national teams and club teams, you need to have patience. Players need confidence to give the best they can. Slovenia and Slovakia are also strong teams with big players and only two teams can qualify [one via a play-off]. Maybe one day Scotland will go to a World Cup or a European Championship again.”
Cenauskis shares the same ambition for his own country. They have never reached a major football tournament.
“I believe one day Lithuania will qualify. Just now, we have to build a new team,” he continued. “Edgaras Jankauskas has come in as manager and he gives good confidence to the players. He was a great player and he can give little details to us which help. Our players do not play in top leagues like the Scottish, Slovenian and Slovakian players. We can still get good results, like we showed against Slovenia.”
Cesnauskis is expected to start amongs the visitors’ substitutes this evening. Should he come on, Hearts fans might be confused seeing him take up a right-back role.
“I was young when I was at Hearts and that’s the reason I played as a right winger all the time. Now, for the past few years, I have moved back,” explained the 35-year-old. “I don’t play like a strong defender but I work to connect with other players and try to attack for the team. It is not that strange for me. In 2009, I played right-back against France and I was up against [Franck] Ribery. I had a good game against him and after that the coach decided I should move back.
“It was difficult against Ribery. He was maybe in bad shape but he is a very good player. He scored the goal and France won 1-0 in that game but we gave a good fight.”
Arvydas Novikovas and Vytautas Luksa [former Hearts trialist] are the only others with a Tynecastle connection in Jankauskas’ squad.
“I have the best memories from my time in Scotland,” said Cesnauskis. “I am in Glasgow so it is disappointing I don’t have time to go to Edinburgh. One day I will come back and watch a Hearts game with my family.
“In 2006 we won the Scottish Cup and it was a long time since Hearts won a trophy. That was a great time, we also finished second in the league that season.
“When I first came to Hearts, I didn’t know many good coaches. After I was here for four years from 2005 to 2009 I was very happy with what I did and what I learned. Many Lithuanian players came to Hearts. I think the team achieved a lot with Mikoliunas, Velicka and all the others. They did well for Hearts.”