Celtic travel to Lithuania on Thursday to face Suduva in the play-off round of the Europa League. Joel Sked takes a look at the Lithuanian champions.
Who are FK Suduva Marijampole?
Celtic’s opponents are far from an illustrious club. Despite being one of the country’s oldest they only became a regular fixture in the top-flight of Lithuanian football in 2002. Yet, they have not been relegated since.
The club have proven themselves to be one of the most stable in recent years and that has been reflected on the pitch. In 2006 they won their first piece of major silverware with the Lithuanian Cup. Since then they’ve finished third four times, runners-up twice, won a second Lithuanian Cup, culminating in their first league title last season.
The Lithuanian football season runs from February to November and Suduva currently sit top of the A Lyga becoming the first team to qualify for the championship round.
Suduva are based in the southern city of Marijampolė, a two hour drive from the capital Vilnius. The industrial city is near the border with Poland and the Kaliningrad region of Russia.
The team play at the 6,500 capacity ARVI Football Arena. It is a relatively new stadium having been opened in 2009 and holds Uefa category three status. It sits 2.5km north of the bus centre in the centre of the city.
Cerltic fans will find a tree-lined multi-purpose facility with three stands.
How did they qualify for Europe?
As winners of the 2017 A Lyga they entered, like Celtic, the first qualifying round of this year’s Champions League. They impressively defeated Cypriot champions APOEL at the first stage before succumbing to Red Star Belgrade in the second round.
They dropped into the Europa League qualifiers, beating Latvians Spartaks Jūrmala to set up the play-off tie with Celtic.
What is their European record like?
Celtic fans with a good memory will likely remember facing the Lithuanians back in 2002. Suduva, then semi-professional, defeated Norwegians SK Brann 6-4 over two-legs in their first ever European tie to qualify for the first round of the Uefa Cup. Next up? Celtic.
Henrik Larsson hit a first-half first-leg hat-trick in an 8-1 win at Celtic Park. Stiliyan Petrov, Chris Sutton, Paul Lambert, John Hartson and Joos Valgaeren were also on the scoresheet. Goals from David Fernandez and Alan Thompson completed a 10-1 aggregate victory, although Hartson did miss a penalty.
Thankfully for Suduva they would not suffer such a heavy defeat in Europe again. They made their way back into Europe four years later and since the 2006/2007 they have played in Europe in 11 of the past 12 seasons.
Their best run came last season when they entered the first qualifying round of the Europa League and made it to the play-off round, defeating Shakhtyor Soligorsk of Belarus, Latvia’s Liepaja and Swiss side Sion on the way. Their journey was ended by Ludogorets Razgrad of Bulgaria.
Player to watch
For how Suduva will likely play against Celtic, focal point Rigino Cicilia will be key. It was he who netted a hat-trick against APOEL to set the team on their way to a famous victory. The former Port Vale forward is rangey and awkward in style but comfortable enough with his back to goal and the ball at his feet.
His partnership with Mihret Topcagic allows the team to get up the pitch and bring the likes of Lithuanian internationalist Ovidijus Verbickas into play.
Man in charge
Vladimir Cheburin has been charge for nearly two years, building on work of previous boss Aleksandr Veselinovic and helping the club make the step to become league champions. He did that with a robust style of play but it has clearly worked domestically with only seven defeats in 53 league games.
Style of play
Celtic can expect to have a lot of the ball. Cheburin’s preferred 5-3-2 system sees Suduva cede possession to the opposition, especially in Europe.
The Lithuanian champions are compact and are content with teams having possession in the wide areas. They will get all men behind the ball when Celtic have possession with Topcagic and Cicilia used as out-balls.
They make it very difficult for teams to play through the centre but while they have plenty of players in the box in defensive situations they are susceptible to crossed balls. Celtic’s strikers also have to pay attention to goalkeeper Ivan Kardum who falls into the ‘parries absolutely everything’ category.
APOEL had plenty of opportunities to shoot from distance which will play into the hands of Olivier Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths if he features.
Former Heart of Midlothian player Marius Cinikas is part of the Suduva squad.