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Season review: Lithuania

Published: Tuesday 8 November 2011, 11.00CET
FK Ekranas maintained their stranglehold on the Lithuanian First Division by clinching a fourth successive league title and second consecutive clean sweep of trophies.
by Vaidotas Januška
from Vilnius
Season review: Lithuania
Despite wholesale changes to personnel Ekranas were again the dominant force in Lithuania ©Valdas Knyzelis
Published: Tuesday 8 November 2011, 11.00CET

Season review: Lithuania

FK Ekranas maintained their stranglehold on the Lithuanian First Division by clinching a fourth successive league title and second consecutive clean sweep of trophies.

FK Ekranas held off resurgent VMFD Žalgiris – runners-up for the first time in a decade – and underachieving FK Sūduva to claim their seventh league title with two rounds remaining, in a campaign that also brought Lithuanian Cup and Super Cup success for a second season running.

The champions: FK Ekranas
After three straight championships Ekranas supporters must have feared their run would end. But a stable structure, a strong financial base and the expert guidance of coach Valdas Urbonas ensured the Panevezys-based club successfully rebuilt themselves into a hungry winning unit. A well-balanced squad including several experienced former Lithuanian internationals – such as defender Ignas Dedura and striker Andrius Velička – and Serbian and Brazilian acquisitions Marko Andjelković and Mauro Alonso, was able to compete on all fronts. Goalkeeper Emilijus Zubas also shone, proving instrumental as Ekranas lost just once in the First Division.

The cup final: FK Ekranas 4-2 FK Banga (aet)
Ekranas lifted the Lithuanian Cup for the second consecutive campaign after coming back from two goals down in one of the most exciting finals in the history of the competition. Minnows and first-time finalists Banga got off to a dream start by scoring twice, but Ramūnas Radavičius and Egidijus Varnas hauled their side back to parity, before Dušan Matović and Andrius Velička won the game in a tense extra half-hour.

The European reckoning
FK Ekranas – UEFA Champions League qualifying
VMFD Žalgiris – UEFA Europa League qualifying
FK Sūduva – UEFA Europa League qualifying
FC Šiauliai or FK Reo Vilnius* – UEFA Europa League qualifying
Exact rounds and entry subject to final confirmation from UEFA
* Depending on Lithuanian Cup results, with the semi-finals set for spring

The best player: Marko Andjelković (FK Ekranas)
Žalgiris striker Deivydas Matulevičius top-scored with 19 league goals yet FK Partizan academy product Andjelković stood out from the crowd. The Serbian playmaker notched nine goals – including two goal-of-the-season candidates and match-winning strikes – added seven assists and was an impressive orchestrator-in-chief. The 27-year-old's performances were such that the winter departure of 2010 player of the season, midfielder Dominykas Galkevičius, for Poland's Zagłębie Lubin barely registered.

The one to watch: Tadas Eliošius (FK Sūduva)
After transferring from unsung FK Kruoja to challengers Sūduva, the talented winger improved immeasurably, becoming one of the brightest lights in a team that otherwise failed to meet expectations. Eliošius scored 12 goals from midfield – one better than last term – and supplied six assists. It is now surely a question of when, not if, the eye-catching 21-year-old midfielder secures a move abroad.

The surprise package: FK Dainava
A finishing position of eighth may have been slightly disappointing for Dainava supporters but it was nonetheless a season to remember for the top-flight debutants. The reborn Alytus-based side – named after a club that was dissolved a decade ago – had a very limited budget and depended largely on players from two merged second division squads. Yet their adventurous style of football – plundering 53 goals, the division's third-highest return – won numerous admirers and achieved respectable results. Dainava fell just five points short of outright fifth place.

The number: 197
The total of matches the 12 teams played this campaign was the highest in the Lithuanian top flight since 1997/98 when there were 16 participants.

The quote:
"Our success doesn't just happen: it is the result of hard work by the whole team throughout the season. We changed 60 to 70% of the team this year and needed to unite the players for a common goal. Every year we have new opponents who want to knock us off the top and who double or triple their energy levels when they play us."
Ekranas coach Valdas Urbonas

The ups and downs:
Relegated: FC Klaipeda
Promoted: FK Reo Vilnius

Last updated: 19/01/12 12.34CET

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