By Patrick Hart
Lithuania's dream of a first major finals appearance can move closer to becoming a reality on Wednesday night when they take on Iceland in UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 5 while leaders Germany face the Faroe Islands.
A home victory in Kaunas would at least confirm Lithuania in second place in the section, which coach Algimantas Liubinskas stresses is the goal for his side. "We have a historic opportunity - to fight for second place in the group and then for a place in Portugal," he said.
Entering the match at the S. Darius & S. Girenas stadium, Lithuania are in third place, a point behind Germany and Scotland. But the fact that this is their last home game of the campaign, which will end with trips to the Faroes and Scotland, makes three points a must.
Poškus ruled out
Liubinskas has prepared his troops accordingly, with an intensive ten-day training camp. Missing from duty, however, has been striker Robertas Poškus, who has failed to shake off a head injury, while centre-forward Edgaras Jankauskas is expected to play despite a leg injury.
Opponents Iceland, meanwhile, warmed up with a 2-1 win against the Faroe Islands in Saturday's qualifier in Reykjavik. They needed a last-minute goal to secure the spoils, yet the result lifted Asgeir Sigurvinsson's side to within a point of Lithuania, whom they beat 3-0 in October.
"We beat Lithuania in the autumn," the coach said. "But that was not the real Lithuania as they had a weakened team. This game will be very difficult for us." A further worry for Sigurvinsson is the bout of food poisoning which has left five of his players struggling for fitness. The match will see an emotional farewell game for former captain Gudni Bergsson, 37, who has announced his retirement.
A pale performance
Germany also looked off-colour at the weekend, when they drew 1-1 in Scotland. They are above Berti Vogts's side on goal difference only, although they have a game in hand on both Scotland and Lithuania.
'Not so dominant'
Speaking ahead of the meeting with the Faroe Islands in Tórshavn, midfield player Michael Ballack admitted there was room for improvement. "At the moment we are not able to dominate teams away from home. Scotland were one of the weakest teams we have played recently, and look what happened there," he said. "
Some players have to realise what it means to play for Germany."
In and out
With Frank Baumann injured and Torsten Frings suspended, there should be a place for Paul Freier of VfL Bochum 1848. Miroslav Klose is less fortunate and could drop out, leaving Kevin Kuranyi or Oliver Neuville to partner Fredi Bobic in attack.
Germany coach Rudi Völler has demanded three points, yet his team struggled to beat the Faroese 2-1 in Hannover in October. His opposite number, Henrik Larsen, is expected to recall defenders Pol Thorsteinsson and Oli Johannesen who missed the Iceland defeat through suspension. But striker Andrew av Flotum is banned and makes way for Hjalgrim Elttor.
With more than 250 accredited media representatives, Wednesday's game will be the north Atlantic archipelago's biggest media event. Whether the Faroe Islands get a result to match remains to be seen, never mind believed.
Additional reporting by Pavle Gognidze and Stefán Stefánsson
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