FC Žalgiris had a unique opportunity to fight for four trophies in 2016. Firstly, Lithuanian top team won the Supercup and after that two LFF Cups and once again became the champions of A lyga.
Žalgiris won four trophies in 2016 Photo: Saulius Čirba
Head coach Valdas Dambrauskas admitted that Žalgiris achievements this year are unique and it would be very hard for any team to reach them.
„Before the season we understood that it will be a special year. Because of the changes in the LFF Cup we had an opportunity to play not in one, but in two tournaments in one year. It was a bigger challenge, especially in the second LFF Cup. Every round consists of one game, so every team has a better chance to win.
Looking back, I can tell that we had a really historical season. Before us nobody won two LFF Cups in one year. I can hardly imagine anybody doing it in the future. And if they want to achieve the same result as „Žalgiris“, they have to win the Supercup and A lyga as well. And that itself is very impressive“, – said V.Dambrauskas.
First game of the new season was really decisive. „Žalgiris“ had to meet with „Trakai“ which were looking forward to win the first trophy in their club‘s history.
„Before the season „Žalgiris“ was in transition. Players had changed, before the Supercup we lost Yury Kendysh who moved to Borisov BATE. It was interesting to see how our new players will adapt to „Žalgiris“ style. It was not an anxiety, it was a curiosity. In „Žalgiris“ we always believe in ourselves.
The Supercup game was really good. We started well, but „Trakai“ scored on their second chance. It was our first game, so we were prone to mistakes, especially on the defensive end. But this year we were better prepared to cope with falling behind. Last year it was a problem, but this year from the first game we showed that we can come back from a one or two goals deficit.
Linas Pilibaitis scored the first goal before halftime. After that I was sure that we will not let it go. And we will win. I bet „Trakai“ did not feel that. Before the Supercup everybody speculated that it is „Trakai“ turn to win Cups in this year. We knew about it and we made sure to use it as our benefit.
We could not score in the second half, but I had the feeling that we are a better team. With every passing minute we played better ant better. When Vytautas Lukša scored second goal even players of „Trakai“ understood their low chances to win. We made some substitutions, Marius Žaliūkas and Elivelto entered the game and that was it. Tautvydas Eliošius scored the third, Mantas Kuklys – from the penalty spot. And that is how we won our first trophy“, – told „Žalgiris“ head coach.
A hole in the spring and preparation for the first LFF Cup final
Though „Žalgiris“ during the season won four trophies, Lithuanian champions had some problems in A lyga in the spring. „Žalgiris“ lost in Klaipėda against „Atlantas“ and played some poor matches. After 10 games team was only in the 4-th place and thing didn't look good.
„It is not a secret. Every time, when we come back after the national team break, we have some problems. At least 5–6 our players were involved into Lithuanian national team, others played in various youth teams. So during the national team break we could not held normal training sessions. And coming back to football after that break was never easy for us.
So in April we had our first game after the national team break against „Lietava“. At that moment we were still a new team, players were still searching for their places in a squad and so on. It is natural that after big changes we had after last season, we needed to find our identity, our game. At the beginning of the season our defense was atrocious. We let our opponents to score nine goals during the first six games in A lyga. Thus our main task was to solve defensive problems.
The game against „Lietava“ was very strange. Barely a minute had passed when our opponent scored from a penalty. „Lietava“ players were on fire, but we managed to finish this game 2:2. Although I still remember how „Lietava“ captain Dominykas Galkevičius waisted a golden opportunity to score a third goal. It was three „Lietava“ players against one Saulius Klevinskas and Galkevičius somehow kicked the ball over the bar. When they missed this chance, I understood that we will definitely score. In the last minutes we sent Mamadou Mbodj forward and he equalized for us.
After the game with „Lietava“ we played against „Atlantas“. It was a bad game, we couldn‘t create anything in the attack, but our defence was far better. Although we lost that game 1:2, but it was a small step for our team in the right direction. „Atlantas“ scored both goals from the corner kicks and at least with one of the goals they were extremely lucky.
Our breakthrough came in the LFF Cup tournament. And I would not say that it was a final game with „Trakai“. In my opinijon, it was the second semifinal match against „Stumbras“. First game in Vilnius we managed to draw 1:1. In Kaunas we led 1:0 after the first half, but at the begining of secondhalf we lost Elton due to red card. If „Stumbras“ scored, they would have equalized and playing 10 against 11 anything could happen. But we showed that we are on a right track. We played with maximum concentration, players fought bravely, helped each other and in the end Vytautas Lukša scored second goal. That victory made us believe that we can win everything.
2015-2016 m. LFF Cup final game in Telšiai was special. Not only because it was a first Cup final this year, but because of the additional things that happened before and during the game“, – remembered V.Dambrauskas.
Final in Telšiai
A long journey to Žemaitija region was hard. Unfortunately, while driving to the final „Žalgiris“ team bus broke down, but in unfavourable circumstances fans and players showed unity.
„We went to Telšiai day before the final game. It was raining heavily all the time, so we could not held a training session in the main stadium. And next day while going to the game our bus broke down. We found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, did not know what to do next. Players are very superstitious and we could not know how they will react to such a thing. But the problem was solved with few phone calls. Egidijus Vaitkūnas relatives came with their cars ant took players to Telšiai. Our fans from Pietų IV took the rest of the crew to the stadium. I guess it was very unussual, but from this experience we get a feeling that we are united, that people are rooting for us and they will support us no matter what happens.
I remember driving in minibus with some of „Žalgiris“ fans and when we entered Telšiai we saw an army of Pietų IV supporters preparing for the match. They could not believe their eyes when they saw „Žalgiris“ coaches came out from their minibus. At that moment I understood that we can not lose this game. And our captain Egidijus Vaitkūnas assured me that we will win. „Easily“, – he said. And when you see such a bright mood, you understand that everything will be fine for us“, – spoke V.Dambrauskas.
Then Linas Klimavičius scored the only goal in the extra time and „Žalgiris“ once again became the champions of LFF Cup. V.Dambrauskas was really excited: „I think we were better team in that final. Though we did not score during the first and second half, but we had more chances and played better. It was symbolic that Linas Klimavičius scored the goal against his former team and brought us a victory. It was very sweat indeed. Then we really had a feeling that everything will be all right“. Hard blow in the Champions League
Before the matches against Kazakh champion „Astana“ in the UEFA Champions League, „Žalgiris“ took an important training camp in Slovenia. V.Dambrauskas summarized that it was a good decision: „Before the Champions League everyone gets huge influx of motivation. Everybody works very hard and for the coach it is very easy to work with the players. Everybody wants to be involved, to be a part of Champions League team. This year before the Champions League we went to Slovenia. It was a very wise step by „Žalgiris“ heads. We had ideal conditions to prepare for the battle. In Vilnius you might try to organize everything minute by minute, but players have families, kids, wifes. At home they have additional stuff to do as well. In Slovenia we only went to training, had our meals, slept, went to training and so on. In fact during this training camp we did not do anything special, but team was growing on our eyes. Our main goal was to be brave, play as we can without any fear. I think we fulfilled our plan for preparations. And we were prepared as good as we can“.
According to football specialists, the odds were against „Žalgiris“, but Lithuanian champions played well in the first leg. The new forward of „Žalgiris" Andrija Kaludjerovic waisted a good opportunity thus „Žalgiris“ ended match in Vilnius 0:0.
„Before the first game against „Astana“ some football specialists said that we will lose both games 0:3. It was understandable, because that season „Astana“ played in Champions League group stage. But we did not care, we were prepared for a fight and we played for a victory.
After the first game in Vilnius result was 0:0, but we had our chances and we felt that we should have won this game. Mamadou Mbodj promised that we will win next time. We all shared the same believe“, – commented FC „Žalgris“ head coach.
The day before the match against „Astana“ was very emotional. Players saw a very sensitive video where their families, wifes and girlfriends encouraged them to fight. Unfortunately, Kazakh champions scored a decisive goal in the last seconds and „Žalgiris“ was eliminated for the third time in a row in the second stage of Champions League. However, it was a very good lesson for the future.
„Before the second game we made a surprise for our players. We had a video that was unreal. It showed that our families, wifes, girlfriends have an enormous influence on players. That video was something special. We had an agreement that we will cry only from joy and happiness. But during that film session guys cried. It touched everyone and it gave us enormous motivation.
It was unbelievable game. After 90 minutes it was 1:1, bet during the final minute „Astana" scored second goal. We all will remember this game for our whole life. I think we deserved better fate. We had everything in our hands and we let it slip away, but we gave everything. Even now it hurts to think about the game. It is still extremely hard.
People are saying that it is better to lose 0:4. They say it is easier to accept it. But I think in this game we showed that we are growing up as a club and as a team. Yes, we lost, but we lost in fighting. Players showed – they can play on the same level as their opponents. It was very important.
We did not stumble. We understood that we can create miracles. It just did not happen this time. But we had to carry on in domestic championship. In Lithuania we knew that we can win every game. We had Andrija Kaludjerovic, Slavko Blagojevic, Matija Ljujic. They gave us additional power. It was somehow easier for them and together we became strong and united team. During the third round of A lyga championship we won all games and by doing so, we effectively took the champions title“, – summarized V.Dambrauskas.
Second triumph in the LFF Cup
The path to the second trophy in the LFF Cup was not easy at all. In semifinal „Žalgiris“ had to win against „Atlantas“ in Klaipėda. The team from Klaipėda is always a tough opponent, but Andrija Kaludjerovic managed to score a winning goal in the dying minutes of the semifinal and „Žalgiris" won 2:1. The final against „Sūduva“ was a little bit easier – „Žalgiris“ won 2:0 and took home third trophie.
„Before speaking about second LFF Cup final, we must speak about semifinal with „Atlantas“. Actually for us it was like a fourth final this year. Before the game we read the message that this final will be held in Klaipėda. In this case „Atlantas“ had extremely high motivation to win, because they wanted to be in the final. And theu knew, that if they will win against „Žalgiris", they will most probably will win in the final as well.
Instead „Žalgiris“ came to the town and ruined „Atlantas“ party. It was very good, interesting game and we scored that memorable goal during the added time. Maybe it is not good to say, but I think it was some kind of compensation for the game in Astana. And in the final everything was simple. We knew that we will win. We did not knew the result and who will score. It was just a matter of time. We had a huge self-confidence. Maybe we did not show it through our emotions, but we just knew that we will win. We knew that we are tough, that we will do as we want. It is the feeling that helps to win titles“, – said V.Dambrauskas.
Once again – champions of A lyga
„Žalgiris“ played very solid third round of A lyga and broke away from the opponents. In 30th round of Lithuanian championship „Žalgiris" won against „Atlantas" 2:0, and one month before the end secured fourth championship title in a row.
„In the end we knew that we will be champions. The only question was – when we will reach that goal. We did it with one month to go and made it with „Atlantas“, at our stadium. Just like last year. It might sound simple, but we all play the same game. Our opponents always have bigger motivation to play against „Žalgiris“, because now it is the biggest team in Lithuanian football. I remember after we drew 2:2 with „Lietava“ and Tomas Salamanavičius told to journalists that now at least half of Lithuania will talk about his team. That shows what meaning has the game with „Žalgiris“ for the other teams.
So it was not easy to win a championship, but the title of champions is made from 33 games. You can make mistake, you can lose one or two games – and still be a champion. But to win six LFF Cups in a row – that is a mind boggling achievement. We had six finals and every time „Žalgiris“ played against different opponent. It shows that reaching final two times in a row is hard enough.
Actually, last LFF Cup final against „Sūduva“ was the easiest. We still had to play game, to fight. But we had firm believe that we will win and when you have such believe, it makes it easier to achieve the titles. And in „Žalgiris“ not only the players and the coaches have this believe. The same could be said about our management, media workers and directors. It goes from them to the players and back. Only working together and believing in each other can fulfill our biggest goals“, – told „Žalgiris“ head coach, worked in Vilnius for the second straight season.