"Actions speak louder than words," is the idiom that coach Igoris Pankratjevas is drilling into his Lithuania side as he leads the country into 2014 with high aspirations after being appointed on a permanent basis in December.
While the job title might be new for Pankratjevas, the task at hand is one he knows inside out, having spent the last two years as an assistant to his predecessor Csaba László. But the new man at the helm wants to go one step further than the Hungarian, with a place at UEFA EURO 2016 the aim after seeing an upswing in results during his interim reign following László's departure in September.
By ending FIFA World Cup qualifying with a 2-0 win over neighbours Latvia and narrow 1-0 loss to Group G winners Bosnia and Herzegovina, caretaker Pankratjevas earned himself the job full time, and is hoping his disciplined style can help the team continue to improve.
"I'd say I'm moderately strict, sometimes fierce – but only sometimes," the 49-year-old said. "I am very demanding of my players. Discipline is the first thing I look for in my team. When you have discipline, results come. In training I require the players to run themselves down without saving energy."
This tough streak dates back to the Lithuanian's time as a towering midfielder with FK Žalgiris Vilnius during the 1980s, a side who stood toe-to-toe with the finest Russian and Ukrainian teams of the Soviet era under disciplinarian Benjaminas Zelkevičius. "He was a great psychologist, he knew every player very well and knew who to encourage," recalled Pankratjevas. "But I wouldn't single him out as my main influence. I had many coaches to learn from and every one was important."
His playing career led him to Germany, Russia and Ukraine, before a move into coaching in his homeland at clubs including Žalgiris, FBK Kaunas and FK Atlantas. A Lithuanian Cup-winning coach with Kaunas and Atlantas, he was named Lithuania's best in 2010, but this latest challenge is his biggest one yet. With the national side still to qualify for a major tournament, Pankratjevas will be eager to help them achieve that dream.
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