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Who are Zalgiris Vilnius? All you need to know about Linfield's Champions League opponents


Kirk Millar in action against Legia Warsaw last season

Kirk Millar in action against Legia Warsaw last season

Kirk Millar in action against Legia Warsaw last season

Linfield now know where they're going in the first qualifying round of the Champions League as they were drawn against Zalgiris Vilnius.

But who are the Lithuanian champions? Here's what you need to know about them...

How did they qualify for the Champions League?

Zalgiris won the Lithuanian A Lyga, finishing two points ahead of defending champions FK Suduva after a shortened 20-game season.

The league was three-horse race, with Zalgiris, Suduva and Kauno Zalgiris well ahead of their rivals, but it was Linfield's opponents who triumphed on the final day of the season.

How are they doing this season?

So far, so good. Zalgiris have played 16 games this season in the A Lyga - which runs from March to November - and have won 10 of them, drawing four and losing just two.

That has them second in the league with 34 points, one point behind Kauno Zalgiris. There's still plenty of games to be played though, with each team having 20 more matches to go.

Tomislav Kis and Francis Kyeremeh have both scored five goals this season for Zalgiris, while Hugo Videmont has four. More notably, they've conceded less than a goal a game this season (13).

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Who are their notable players?

French forward Videmont finished the 2020 season as the A Lyga's top scorer with 13 goals in 20 games, while former Hearts man Saulius Mikoliunas - who can play both defence and wing - was named Lithuanian Player of the Season.

Mikoliunas is one of two players that Zalgiris contribute to the Lithuanian national squad, with the other being midfielder Ovidijus Verbickas. Only Kaunos Zalgiris contribute more players to the national side from the A Lyga.

Who is their manager?

Vladimir Cheburin is the Zalgiris boss having taken over from Alyaksey Baha in January. The Kazakh is a massively successful manager in Lithuania having coached Suduva to three consecutive titles between 2017 and 2019, along with the 2019 Lithuanian Cup and two Lithuanian Super Cups.

Where do they play?

Zalgiris play their home games at the LFF Stadium in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius and is on the south side of the city.

Holding a capacity of 5,067, it is also the home stadium of the Lithuanian national team and will host their World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in September.

What is their nickname?

Zalgiris are nicknamed Zaliai Ballti, or The Green-Whites, because of the colours they play in - the Lithuanians' home jerseys are green and white stripes.

Interestingly, their name is in reference to the Battle of Zalgiris, which was fought between the victorious Lithuania and Poland.

Don't we know these guys?

You might recognise Zalgiris as they have played Northern Irish opponents in the past, taking on Crusaders, Portadown and Lisburn Distillery in European qualifiers before.

Unfortunately their record against Northern Irish teams is good - in fact, so good, they're undefeated on aggregate.

Their first experience against one of our teams saw them defeat Crusaders 3-2 on aggregate in the preliminary round of qualifying for the 1996 UEFA Cup, winning 2-0 in Vilnius meaning a 2-1 loss in Belfast didn't matter.

Then, in the 2004 UEFA Cup, they overcame Portadown 4-2 on aggregate in the first qualifying round, before accounting for Distillery 2-0 on aggregate in the first qualifying round for the Intertoto Cup.

What's their European record like?

Zalgiris have only ever won one two-legged Champions League qualifier, and that was back in 1999 against Armenian side Araks Ararat, so their record in the top tier of Europe isn't good.

They've never made the group stage of any European competition, with the closest they ever came being in 2013 when they reached the play-offs for the Europa League but were hammered 7-0 by Red Bull Salzburg.

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