The Lithuanian Football Federation (LFF) is 100 years young this year – and has marked the occasion with a nationwide football celebration.
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For its special birthday, the LFF focused on the game itself, with football matches and festivals taking place in various cities across the country.
“A centenary is obviously a great jubilee. We have decided to celebrate it not in one place, but all over the country”, said the LFF's president Tomas Danilevičius. “We are very happy at how many people took part. Once again, we were able to see that football is the most popular sport in terms of participation.”
One particular festival saw refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan playing football together. Thousands of Ukrainians have been welcomed into Lithuania in recent months.
The official date for the start of organised football in Lithuania is considered to be 7 May 1922. On that day, the two first matches in the Lithuanian championship were played in Kaunas. A year later, Lithuania was admitted to football's world body FIFA. After the break-up of the Soviet Union and fresh independence in 1990, membership of UEFA followed in 1992.
As with other similar federations, Lithuania's national association has faced countless challenges in finding its own way. Nevertheless, and especially in the past decade, the country has emerged into the spotlight on the European football landscape.
Hosting the UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals in 2013 was an important step for a small country of less than 3 million people, and the opportunity to play host to the UEFA Women’s Under-17 Championship finals in 2018 boosted interest in the women‘s game.
Last year, the LFF took another stride forward globally when it hosted the FIFA Futsal World Cup finals – only the third country in Europe to do so.
Crucial UEFA support
Tomas Danilevičius emphasised that support from UEFA, in particular through its HatTrick programme, has been crucial in the development of the game in Lithuania. “Over the years, our football community has had both 'ups and downs',” he said.
“We are really glad to have the support and co-operation of UEFA all the time. We have already hosted two UEFA youth final tournaments. Another event – the UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship finals - will follow in two years. This shows that we as a federation have also earned trust at international level.“
As part of a strategy that is in place until 2024, the LFF has placed emphasis on youth development, and is hoping that long-term plans will make its teams more competitive and achieve success.
“We are now already seeing positive signs and improvements in key target areas such as youth football and women’s football”, said Danilevičius. “We hope that this will soon be reflected in the results.”
Football fans in Lithuania have positive moments to look forward to. More festivities are planned in June when Lithuania's national team begins its UEFA Nations League campaign, while even greater anticipation is building for later in the year. A new modern stadium in Kaunas is nearing completion, and is expected to open in the autumn – a long-awaited centenary gift for dedicated followers of the game.