The history of football in Lithuania, which begins at the turn of the last century, has been strongly conditioned by political events. The country became independent in 1918, was annexed by the USSR in 1940, before regaining independence in 1990.
The first recorded match took place in 1911 in Kaunas between teams representing the cities of Kaunas and Vilnius. In 1923 the Lithuanian Sports League was admitted to FIFA. In the same year Lithuania played their first international as an independent state, also in Kaunas, losing 5-0 to Estonia. This early flurry of activity came to a climax in 1924 when the Lithuanian Football League (LFL) was founded and the national team participated in the Paris Olympics. The LFL became the sole supervisor of Lithuanian football in 1925, organising the first national championship, which featured seven teams, in 1931.
From 1946 Lithuanian clubs competed within the USSR's footballing pyramid. In 1982 FK Žalgiris Vilnius won the first division title to gain promotion to the Supreme Soviet League, where they finished third in 1987. They duly qualified for the 1988/89 UEFA Cup, where they were eliminated in the first round by FK Austria Wien. They qualified again the next season and took the scalp of IFK Göteborg before bowing out in the second round. One standout talent from this era was Viačeslavas Sukristovas, who figured in the USSR team that finished as runners-up at the 1988 UEFA European Championship. Two other players, Arminas Nabekovas and Arvydas Janonis, helped the USSR win Olympic gold in Seoul in 1988.
When Lithuania re-established its independence on 11 March 1990, it was the cue for clubs such as Žalgiris, FK Atlantas and ASSM Inkaras to withdraw from the Soviet setup following a request by the Lithuanian sports authorities. A Lithuanian championship promptly started in 1991. A Baltic Football Championship was also launched in 1990, involving sides from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Kaliningrad enclave of the USSR.
The national team of the newly independent Lithuania made their debut in a 2-2 draw with Georgia in Tbilisi on 27 May 1990. A bold line was then drawn under the country's international isolation as the Lithuanian Football Federation (Lietuvos Futbolo Federacija or LFF) was readmitted to FIFA on 9 December 1991. As a result, the national team, under Algimantas Liubinskas, played in 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifying, winning their first points with a 2-2 draw against Northern Ireland in Belfast on 28 April 1992. The first victory came against Latvia in Riga on 12 August 1992. Players such as Janonis, Narbekovas and Valdas Ivanauskas went west to ply their trade in the Austrian Bundesliga.
The LFF became a fully fledged member of the European football family at the 1992 UEFA Congress in Gothenburg. Since then, it has worked hard to develop the country's football infrastructure with the aim of improving performances at both club and national-team level. One day, perhaps, this approach will be rewarded with a place in the final round of a major championship.
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