VILNIUS - It was a good day at the office for Lithuania, a disaster for Spain. The Spanish were firm favorites to win the Oct. 13 World Cup qualifier, but could only manage a 0-0 draw in what was a sluggish and largely ill-tempered game played at the now-notorious Zalgiris Stadium in Vilnius.
Although Spain dominated possession for most of the game, it never really looked comfortable and rarely threatened the well-organized Lithuanian defense. By the end of the game Spain had five forwards on the pitch, but in the end had to settle for a deeply disappointing draw, its second in three games.
Lithuania played its usual counter offensive game and almost scored when Dynamo Kiev midfielder Edgaras Cesnauskis shot on the half hour, but Carles Puyol deflected the shot over the bar.
After the game the Spanish coach Luis Aragones bemoaned the poor quality of the field, his side's lack of fortune and the Lithuanian goalkeeper as the decisive factors in the draw.
"The rough field was much better for our rivals and we had some problems dribbling the ball. But though we controlled the course of the game we simply could not get round the Lithuanian keeper," Aragones said.
The midweek encounter was soured from the start though because of a prematch scandal surrounding the Spanish side's training facilities. The visitors refused to train at Zalgiris Stadium and said that the Lithuanian Football Federation had backtracked on an arrangement to offer them alternative facilities.
"We're not training on this paddy field," Aragones was quoted as saying in the Spanish press, which also published photos of it, puddles and all. Aragones went on to say that it was "more appropriate for a match between neighborhood friends than for elite professionals to work on."
But the field really was pitifully substandard. Similar problems embarrassed Lithuanian officials when the Italian, German and Scottish national teams had to play on it and likewise complained about its appalling quality. Zalgiris Stadium was built in the 1950s and has had no renovation work undertaken since then.
Still, there is some good news. Zalgiris' ground has been earmarked for extensive renovation, although the project hasn't yet been fully approved by all the parties involved, so it looks like nothing will get done before at least April of next year.
And Lithuania should soon have its first state-of-the-art soccer stadium, provided the LFF can get round some tricky negotiation problems for the proposed soccer complex in the Naujoji Vilnia district of Vilnius.
"With the help of the Vilnius municipality, the LFF wants to build a soccer complex in Naujoji Vilnia, but we have encountered some major obstacles," said Julius Kvedaras, director general of the LFF. "First, there are strong objections from local residents. Second, it turns out there is a small part of the proposed development site that is used by hedgehogs as a breeding ground. At first we did not understand - we thought they (the environmental activists) were laughing at us."
But at least tentative steps are being taken to address the problem, although the proposed changes mean that Lithuania may lack a stadium to play its international fixtures in during 2006. One possible solution to that problem is that Lithuania might play its games at a Latvian venue.