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Season review: Lithuania

Published: Friday 15 November 2013, 9.45CET
VMFD Žalgiris brought the title back to the capital for the first time in 14 years, ending FK Ekranas five-year reign, while reborn FK Atlantas put up a surprising title challenge.
by Vaidotas Januška
from Vilnius
Season review: Lithuania
Coach Marek Zub is held aloft after Žalgiris's title success ©Valdas Knyzelis
Published: Friday 15 November 2013, 9.45CET

Season review: Lithuania

VMFD Žalgiris brought the title back to the capital for the first time in 14 years, ending FK Ekranas five-year reign, while reborn FK Atlantas put up a surprising title challenge.

VMFD Žalgiris retained the Lithuanian Cup and brought the title back to Vilnius for the first time since 1999, ending an era of FK Ekranas domination, but a reinvigorated FK Atlantas ran them close.

Champions: VMFD Žalgiris
After opening with a defeat, Marek Zub's men went on a six-month unbeaten streak and, with 21-goal Polish striker Kamil Biliński firing up front, Mantas Kuklys and Pavel Komolov providing creativity in midfield, and Croatian Luka Perić anchoring the defence, the title looked to be a formality. However, they ended up stumbling over the finish line after four draws and a defeat in their final five games. They were resigned to a title play-off against Atlantas after losing their last match to FK Sūduva, only for their rivals to draw their closing fixture and make a gift of the crown.

Defender Georgas Freidgeimas said: "It's a fantastic feeling. It would have been sweeter to win ourselves. But when we heard the result from Klaipeda my whole body went numb, I wanted to cry."

Cup final: VMFD Žalgiris 3-3 FK Šiauliai (aet, Žalgiris win 8-7 on penalties)
Žalgiris's Lithuanian Cup success was every bit as nerve-shredding as their championship, as they twice came from behind and then let a lead slip in extra time. It took 18 penalties in the subsequent shoot-out for Žalgiris to finish Šiauliai off, with goalkeeper Armantas Vitkauskas's saves proving decisive for the second year running.

Coach Zub said: "I was calm during the shoot-out because Vitkauskas saved us last year, but today everyone contributed to the win."

European places*
VMFD Žalgiris – UEFA Champions League second qualifying round
FK Atlantas – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
FK Ekranas – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
FK Banga/FK Trakai/FK Klaipėdos Granitas# – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round

*subject to final confirmation from UEFA
#dependent upon results in Lithuanian Cup

Player of the year: Mantas Kuklys (VMFD Žalgiris) TBC
After scoring the winning goal in the Lithuanian Super Cup in March, the 26-year-old playmaker became a talisman for Žalgiris's success this season, taking the man-of-the-match award in the Lithuanian Cup final and getting crucial goals in Žalgiris's run through three qualifying rounds to the UEFA Europa League play-offs. In the First Division, his 12 goals and 13 assists were a measure of his influence.

One to watch: Donatas Kazlauskas (FK Atlantas)
Released by Žalgiris last year, the mercurial winger found his feet closer to his home in a renascent Atlantas team. Just 19, he was a regular, keeping senior international Tadas Eliošius out of the starting lineup. He came up with seven goals and four assists in the league, including important strikes against Žalgiris and Ekranas, and featured for the hosts as Lithuania staged the 2013 UEFA European Under-19 Championship as well as turning out for the U21s.

Surprise package: FK Atlantas
The Klaipeda side finished eighth in 2012 but were revitalised with the arrival of Russian coach Konstantin Sarsania, surprising even themselves to come second in the table – their best result since 2002. Evaldas Razulis scored 21 goals and Marius Papšys was the creative spark with nine assists, with their exploits all the more noble given they relied largely on native talent.

Leading scorer: Nerijus Valskis (FK Sūduva) – 27

Relegated: FK Tauras

Promoted: FK Klaipėdos Granitas

Number: 23
consecutive First Division games in which Žalgiris scored at least once between April and October

Quote: "It is the happiest defeat of my life."
Žalgiris veteran Andrius Skerla responds to his side's dramatic league finale.

Last updated: 15/11/13 9.47CET

http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/association=ltu/news/newsid=2023100.html#season+review+lithuania

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