After yesterday's trip to Kaunas, it was back to the fabulous capital city of Vilnius for the second game of a midweek Lithuanian double header.
Futbolo Klubo Žalgris are one of Lithuania's most successful club with 7 titles since the A Lyga was established in 1991. Prior to that the club competed in the Soviet Union football system where their highest finish was third in the top flight in 1987. The club qualified for the UEFA Cup for the first time as a result of this finish but they lost to Austria Wien in the first round. The club left the Soviet league in 1990 to join the Baltic League with other clubs from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, before becoming founder members of the A Lyga.
The club run into problems in 2008 when their owner Vadim Kastujev was arrested in Moscow. The club failed to meet the licensing requirements to compete in the A Lyga and were subsequently demoted in 2009. The fans of the club founded a new club VMFD Žalgiris and regrouped in the I Lyga, winning promotion back to the top flight in 2010.
The club were crowned A Lyga Champions in four consecutive seasons from 2013 to 2016 and they reverted back to their original name of FK Žalgris Vilnius in 2015.
FK Žalgris Vilnius play their home games at the three sided, 5,000 capacity, LFF National Stadium. The ground is less than 1km from the main train station in Vilnius. The stadium was originally home to FK Vėtra and was known as the Vėtra Stadium. When FK Vėtra went bankrupt in 2010 the stadium was taken over by the Lithuanian Football Federation and renamed the LFF (Lietuvos Futbolo Federacija) Stadium.
The national team have played their home games at the ground since 2005 - Lithuania were in the same World Cup Qualifying group as England and Scotland, who were their last two home opponents in qualifying. The ground is on the flight path of the airport so if you are a plane spotter then you are onto a winner.
After last night's experience, this evening actually felt like a matchday. The Zalgiris ultras in the corner created a bit of noise and, even though there was only 230 present, you felt the hustle and bustle of a football game. You could also get yourself a beer as well and some very tasty (deep fried) garlic rye bread strips. Perfect for soakage! One similar thing to the ground in Kaunas though is that the ticket office was the front seat of a car. The cost of admission was 2 euros more expensive though!
The game, although not a classic, was entertaining enough. The home side started brightly with plenty of possession but it wasn't until the 21st minute that they made the breakthrough when Tomas Szymkowicz let fly from 25 yards and the ball sailed into the net.
After 35 minutes Palanga were given a glorious chance to equalise when they were awarded a penalty. Unfortunately for them Gvidas Juška's spot kick came back off the upright (video clip below).
After a slow start to the second half Zalgiris were reduced to 10 men when Slavko Blagojevicius received two quick yellow cards. Naturally Zalgiris were happy to defend their lead and play on the counter when the opportunity arose. It was on one of these counters that Zalgiris doubled their lead when, after 81 minutes, Liviu Antali rounded Tadas Norbutas in the Palanga goal to seal the victory. The home side finished the game with nine men when Linas Klimavičius received a second yellow card in stoppage time.
So a season that began in Ružomberok in Slovakia back in August finally reached it's conclusion this evening. Once again it has been a fantastic adventure across home and abroad. I have been to some brilliant places and met some great people along the way. Hopefully I will see you all soon when I start another season of travelling in a few weeks time.
Thank you for reading, have a great summer!