Giedrius Arlauskis is one of two Lithuanians in the UEFA Champions League this season and the FC Unirea Urziceni goalkeeper has taken the knocks to get there.
The 21-year-old has overcome a head injury suffered during the Romanian champions' pre-season tour of Scotland to play every minute of their Group G campaign so far – a 2-0 defeat at Sevilla FC followed by a creditable 1-1 home draw with VfB Stuttgart.
"I was caught in the head by a player's knee," explained the twice-capped Lithuanian international. "I was knocked unconscious and recovered my senses the next morning. Initially they thought I would be out for six months, but I was back playing within three weeks."
Dream come true
If Arlauskis's quick recovery came as a surprise, so too does the level he finds himself playing at this term. With PFC CSKA Moskva defender Deividas Šemberas the only other Lithuanian in the UEFA Champions League, Arlauskis is savouring the experience. "A couple of years ago I could only dream of playing in the Champions League. The dream has now come true," said the custodian, who joined Unirea from KFK Šiauliai in 2007.
Keeping the faith
He hopes his dogged determination to compete with the élite will prove infectious among team-mates whom few expect to survive the group stage. "A goalkeeper must be a bit crazy, like an animal. He has to inspire his colleagues with his confidence. I, for one, believe we can repeat last year's success and confound the critics," he said. "Sometimes I think everybody is against us in Romania. We had a poor start to the season, but we are still among the leaders. It is a pity we have to play our Champions League home games at [FC Steaua Bucureşti's] stadium because ours does not meet UEFA requirements."
Arlauskis is also optimistic that his UEFA Champions League exploits will help him usurp Žydrunas Karčemarskas as Lithuania's No1. "I don't have a problem with the situation," he said. "I have to wait for my chance, but of course I want to play for my country again soon."
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