If Edgaras Jankauskas has learned one thing from poring over tapes of Scotland’s last outing it’s to avoid rash challenges on the edge of the box.
The Lithuania head coach has been thinking deeply about ways to beat Scotland, even if, he admitted, it will cause him heartache to see the visitors suffer.
Jankauskas is, of course, a former Hearts player, one highly regarded down Gorgie way. He has already revealed he has secured two tickets for the forthcoming Edinburgh derby in October.
So his love for Scotland, and for the country’s football heritage, is well established. He would prefer not to be the one to have to end Gordon Strachan’s World Cup hopes.
But that won’t stop him demanding the best from his players in the Group F clash this evening as they seek to cope with Scotland’s threats.
Jankauskas has identified the main one. Not that you must have won the Champions League, as Jankauskas has done with Porto, to grasp where Scotland’s dangers lie.
The head coach claims to recall Griffiths from as far back as the striker’s days at Livingston. Jankauskas made his last Hearts appearance in March 2007. Griffiths, meanwhile, made his senior debut at the end of the previous year.
“I know the players, especially Leigh Griffiths, even from my time at Hearts,” he said. “I remember his free-kicks and he reminded us very well in the game against England. I forbid my players to foul in these areas!”
The head coach believes Scotland are a better side now than when Lithuania held them to a 1-1 draw last year. Stuart Armstrong has since emerged on the international stage while Craig Gordon, Jankauskas’ old Hearts team-mate, has been reinstated as first-choice goalkeeper.
“I think the selected players are the best at the moment and the squad has a very experienced manager who chooses the best at the time,” said Jankauskas.
“Their squad is even stronger than it was when we played them at Hampden and there have been important transfers since, such as Andy Robertson joining Liverpool. The squad is stronger than it was.
“Craig Gordon has been doing well since he came back. He’s a top keeper. I remember my time at Hearts ten years ago and he was top then. Over the years, he has gained more experience. In the past, he could only play with his left foot. Now it is left and right.
“He’s tough to beat in any department. He’s quick, good on the crosses, smart and commanding. A top keeper.”
A reporter suggested he had made Gordon sound unbeatable. This was manna from heaven for a former player of Jankauskas’ worth. “Well, I remember scoring a few goals in training against him!”
Whether the head coach can rely tonight on players with his eye for goal is debatable. Hibs striker Deivydas Mateluvicius is set to start due to injuries in the forwards department. Jankauskas is confident he can cause Strachan discomfort. He described the 1-1 draw at Hampden as his favourite memory from clashes between the countries stretching back 20 years. Lithuania have always seemed able to cause Scotland problems.
“Taking away a point from Hampden was a big achievement for us,” he said. “We’ll fight for victory and, as much as I appreciate Scottish football, we will fight and be relentless in the game.
“We have our own goals and we are going to follow our dream,” he added. “It’s a big day for us as there are not many games in the year of this calibre in Lithuania.
“We might create a big day for our supporters and our country. If it is to end the Scottish hopes of qualifying, I might be sad, but we have our very clear targets to compete for every ball and every yard because we need a positive result.”
But he does have good news for Scotland. He considers them good enough to seal second place. “I rate Scotland very highly and I would not be surprised if Scotland qualified from the group because they are not weaker than any team,” he said.
“They have proven that in the recent games against Slovenia and England.”