The Lithuanian league campaign is under way, with perennial champions FBK Kaunas already justifying their pre-season billing as odds-on favourites.
Having won eight of the last nine A Lyga titles, Kaunas know what their aims are for the season, with club president Gintaras Ugyanskis saying: "Only first place is good enough for us." Such is their confidence that Kaunas loaned top strikers Ričardas Beniušis and Artūras Rimkevičius to Latvian side SK Liepajas Metalurgs before the start of the season.
Rumour has it that former Metalurgs coach Benjaminas Zelkevičius helped broker that deal, since he was recently seen in the company of Kaunas owner Vladimir Romanov. Belarussian Andrei Zygmantovitch is in charge at Kaunas, although since he lacks a the correct license, goalkeeping coach Artūras Ramoška is officially the team's boss.
Kaunas are already top the table after two games and it will take some effort to dislodge them by the time the season ends on 16 November. FK Sūduva had emerged as their biggest challengers in pre-season, having signed a number of local and foreign players, with experienced coach Algimantas Gabris hungry to shake up the rankings.
"We've prepared for the league even better than last season," he said. "Our goal is to stay in the top two and take a shot at Kaunas." However, Sūduva have made a poor start, drawing their opener 0-0 against FK Žalgiris Vilnius, losing 6-1 at home to Skonto FC in the Baltic League and then going down 3-0 at Kaunas in the league.
Žalgiris also had high hopes, with new coach Vyacheslav Mogilny saying: "The owners have asked for medals this season and we'll try to win them." Two draws represent an unedifying start for a side which has not finished in the top three since 2001. Valdas Urbonas' FK Ekranas and Virginijus Liubšys' FK Vėtra are doing better with four points each.
With FK Interas and FK Vilnius both pulling out before the start of the season, the A Lyga campaign seemed ill-fated, but Liubšys feels upbeat about the eight-team format. "There will be no easy matches anymore," he said. "Players will have to be 100 per cent for every game. This will help to improve the league and the players' skills."
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