No one really expected VMFD Žalgiris to get past KKS Lech Poznań in the third qualifying round, so as they prepare to meet FC Salzburg in the UEFA Europa League play-offs, the Lithuanian side feel they have nothing to fear.
The 2013 Lithuanian Cup winners have now made it through three rounds, following up victories against Saint Patrick's Athletic FC and FC Pyunik with a quietly sensational away goals success over Lech. Salzburg are a big obstacle, but defender and assistant coach Andrius Skerla is not shaking in his boots. "An opponent from the Spanish or German league would have been more difficult," said the 36-year-old. "We were being written off as early as the first qualifying round and we have got this far. Why not try to go even further?"
The three-time Lithuanian champions are still a little shaken after overcoming Lech. Having taken a 1-0 cushion across the Polish border into last Thursday's second leg, they silenced the Poznan crowd when Rytis Leliūga's solo effort put them in front on 29 minutes. Lech rallied late on – a Lukasz Teodorczyk strike and a Luka Perić own goal giving them a 2-1 lead on the night – yet it was not enough to wrest the advantage away from Žalgiris and their Polish coach Marek Zub.
"It is a massive achievement for us," skipper Skerla told UEFA.com. "We are making history because no team from Lithuania have ever come this far. The last few minutes were tense, but we held on. This was a big event for us because we don't often play in stadiums like this. In Vilnius we left our hearts on the pitch and in Poznan we also played well, except for at the end. We knew we had to score if we wanted to get through. Lech are a very experienced team but we also understood there was a lot of pressure on them."
Victory was a bittersweet experience for Zub. "I'm happy that my team won and this gives joy to the people of Lithuania, but I'm sorry a Polish team was eliminated." Žalgiris's Polish striker Kamil Biliński added: "For me, it was a special match in my homeland, but the most important thing was to win for the club. It was a must-win tie for Lech and the early goal in Poznan gave us so much confidence. Now we will face a very strong opponent, but this means another chance to show what we can do."
Salzburg coach Roger Schmidt admitted to not knowing much about Žalgiris, but he will need to learn fast if he is to avoid being the victim of another upset. Žalgiris midfielder Mantas Kuklys was in the side that lost 6-2 to Salzburg's Austrian rivals VfB Admira Wacker Mödling last season, though the memory of that drubbing has not dampened his ardour. "We at least have a chance, even if it's going to be very, very difficult," he said. "Salzburg are probably tougher than Admira, but we are stronger this year too."
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