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Season review: Lithuania

Published: Tuesday 13 November 2012, 14.20CET
FK Ekranas maintained their stranglehold on the First Division by clinching a fifth successive title, but lost their grip on the Lithuanian Cup for the first time in three seasons.
by Vaidotas Januška
from Vilnius
Season review: Lithuania
Valdas Urbonas masterminded Ekranas's fifth consecutive title success ©Valdas Knyzelis
Published: Tuesday 13 November 2012, 14.20CET

Season review: Lithuania

FK Ekranas maintained their stranglehold on the First Division by clinching a fifth successive title, but lost their grip on the Lithuanian Cup for the first time in three seasons.

FK Ekranas claimed their eighth league title on the final day of the season but failed to make it a domestic double for the first time in three years after losing out on penalties to a VMFD Žalgiris side that pushed them hard all season in the Lithuanian Cup final. 

Champions: FK Ekranas
The Panevezys-based club bore all the hallmarks of a side preparing to struggle following the departure of three key players at the halfway stage. However, guided by studious coach Valdas Urbonas and gripped by a winning mentality, Ekranas pipped Žalgiris to the title by a single point. A well-balanced squad included veterans Ignas Dedura and Mantas Samusiovas, who marshaled the defence with diligence, while goalkeeper Emilijus Zubas also excelled.

Cup final: FK Ekranas 0-0 VMFD Žalgiris (aet, Žalgiris win 3-1 on penalties)
Žalgiris ended their nine-year wait for a trophy with a hard-fought triumph. Stand-in captain Andrius Skerla said the script was written for his team's win. "I had a feeling that if it went to penalties, Žalgiris would win the lottery," the veteran defender told UEFA.com. "I was very confident. It was a very difficult, tiring game and our opponents had the initiative in extra time but we held on. This trophy means a lot to the club, as the cup is coming back to Vilnius after a very long time."

European places* 
FK Ekranas – UEFA Champions League qualifying
VMFD Žalgiris – UEFA Europa League qualifying
FK Sūduva – UEFA Europa League qualifying
FC Šiauliai, FK Atlantas or FK Kruoja* – UEFA Europa League qualifying

* Subject to final confirmation from UEFA and depending on Lithuanian Cup results, with the semi-finals set for spring

Player of the year: Artūras Rimkevičius (FC Šiauliai)
For so long regarded as a player wasting his potential, the 29-year-old poured scorn on his doubters, plundering 35 goals in 29 games to shatter a 56-year top-flight record. "I have probably finally matured as a player," he told UEFA.com. He was named as the league's Player of the Year, with the overall national honour going to Gaziantepspor goalkeeper Žydrūnas Karčemarskas.

One to watch: Emilijus Zubas (FK Ekranas)
Zubas had big boots to fill following the departure of Vytautas Černiauskas in 2010, but after making his debut last season the young goalkeeper shone. Displaying maturity beyond his years, Zubas conceded just 23 goals in 32 appearances, which earned a call-up to the Lithuania national team.

Surprise package: FK Kruoja
While the final standings bore an uncanny resemblance to 2011, Kruoja deserve all the accolades for continuing to punch above their weight. Despite overcoming Sūduva in all three of their meetings, they finished five points back in fourth. This achievement should not be overlooked, however, when you consider Pakruojis' modest population of just over 6,000.

Leading scorer: Artūras Rimkevičius, FC Šiauliai (35)

Relegated: FK Reo Vilnius

Promoted: FK Lietava Jonava

Number: 6
The tally of hat-tricks Šiauliai striker Rimkevičius scored during his record-breaking season. 

Quote
"I said that real men would win this game. Unfortunately, our opponents had more real men."
Sūduva coach Darius Gvildys speaks frankly about his side's defeat by FK Kruoja

Last updated: 20/11/12 20.21CET

http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/association=ltu/news/newsid=1892338.html#season+review+lithuania

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