Scandalous finale to Lithuanian soccer season

  • 2004-11-10
  • By Thomas Hviid
VILNIUS - The Lithuanian Premier League ended in controversial fashion on Nov. 7 with the championship deciding game between Ekranas Panevezys and Kaunas. Chaotic scenes erupted at the Aukstaitijos Stadium in Panevezys after the match, which Kaunas won 2-0 to claim its sixth consecutive championship title.

Some Ekranas fans tried to invade the playing field following the final whistle, while Kaunas' players responded with provocative gestures to increase the tension. Security forces were able to hold off the angry fans who instead directed their ire toward the referee by lobbing bottles and mandarins in his direction.

Due to the anarchic scenes, the award ceremony had to be canceled and according to the Lithuanian football Web site, security forces eventually used tear gas to disperse the crowd. The ugly post-match scenes in Panevezys were the culmination of a chaotic build-up to a game that almost never happened.

Following a Nov. 5 meeting of the Lithuanian Football League Association, it was announced that Ekranas was to be expelled from the league due to match rigging accusations. Kaunas would then have won the match by default and been handed the title. However, the decision to expel Ekranas from the league was later overruled by the Lithuanian Football Federation and the match was given the go-ahead.

Although Kaunas won the final match fairly in any event, Ekranas is likely to contest the result. The club claims that the accusations of match fixing were absolute nonsense and seriously disturbed the team's preparations for the all-important game.

Ekranas may have some right to feel cheated. Kaunas has so far not been able to offer any clear proof that its rivals attempted to fix any league matches, while Kaunas on the other hand has repeatedly been accused of throwing games in its six-year championship streak.

Additionally, the decision by the Lithuanian Football League Association to expel Ekranas was only approved by four other teams in the league - Zalgiris Vilnius, Atlantas Klaipeda, FK Vilnius and FK Silute. All four clubs enjoy close relations to Kaunas and its owner, Vladimir Romanov.

The remaining clubs in the league, Ekranas, Vetra Vilnius and Suduva Marijampole, chose not to take part in the meeting on Nov. 5, which was held at the headquarters of

omanov's Ukio Bankas in Kaunas.

Ekranas hasn't yet made an official response to the recent events, but the club is sure to try and make life difficult for Kaunas and Romanov in the future:

"We will for sure not keep silent about what is happening in Lithuanian football and we will let the European Football Federation know about it," Ekranas' coach Virginijus Liubsys said at a press conference prior to the game. He also alleged that his players had received telephone threats and were offered money to lose the game against Kaunas.

So it promises to be an interesting Lithuanian Premier League next year, when the league will be expanded from eight to 10 teams, although not necessarily for all the right reasons.