Hosting this year’s Futsal World Cup is most pressing challenge for its federation
LFF considers the development and nurturing of women's football as essential
Country received grants as part of the FIFA Covid-19 Relief Plan
The hosting of this September’s FIFA Futsal World Cup 2021 is understandably a major event for the Lithuanian Football Federation (LFF) and the focus of considerable work. For the LFF, the tournament is not just a high-profile event but also a springboard for even greater football development, in which the women’s game is taking on increasing importance.
"It is a great honour for the football community and for the whole country. We hope its legacy will not only be greater opportunities to play futsal, but also to get involved in football in general," a proud LFF president Tomas Danilevicius told FIFA.com.
As well as staging the game’s premier futsal event this year, Lithuania was recently confirmed as the host country for the UEFA Women's U-19 Championship in 2024, providing a major boost to the LFF’s strategy to promote and develop the women's game throughout the country.
The LFF Executive Committee, who created the four-year strategy to run until 2024, unveiled it to the public last December. It was made possible by financial support to the tune of USD $500,000 in a Women's Football Grant as part of FIFA’s Covid-19 Relief Plan, as well as the support of the UEFA Grow Programme. The grant money was allocated to the senior national team and the youth sides, and also to cover general administration costs and those related to senior-team competitions.
With this strategy, which shows the significant value placed on women’s football, the LFF aims to provide a positive image to the media, thus inspiring girls and young women to practice football through a simple and fun vision for the sport. Conscious of the essential need to develop and cultivate women's football, the LFF is seeking to increase the number of practitioners, allowing all talented girls and women to reach their potential for the benefit of the national team.
In terms of promotional work, several LFF initiatives deserve mention, including Futbolo Kaledos (Football Christmas). This involved the construction of a six-metre-high Christmas tree in Vilnius made of 705 footballs, which were later gifted to children without access to football.
Another is the Kauno Darzelių lyga (Kaunas Nursery League), which aims to make football more accessible to pre-schoolers through related activities. The federation is also trying to attract more women to the game and to familiarise them with football through training sessions with an emphasis on fitness, all coupled with constant support for and improvement to the women's national championship known as the Elite League.
In addition to this strategy, and its projects and programmes, the LFF has been given hosting rights for the UEFA Women's U-19 Championship in 2024 in what is further recompense for the hard work put in over many years.
"It's great recognition and an honour for the entire football community. Moreover, it shows that we’re heading in the right direction and can host elite-level football in Lithuania. We hope it’ll be a good catalyst for the improvement of our infrastructure," LFF Secretary-General Edgaras Stankevicius told FIFA.com.
"Being chosen by UEFA to host of the Women's U-19 EURO is a great achievement for the LFF and a great endorsement of the work being done to develop women's football. We have high-level experts at the LFF and will be able to stage a major footballing celebration in 2024," added Tomas Danileviaius.
Nor will it be the first major European women's tournament hosted by Lithuania, which in 2018 organised the U-17 Women's EURO, providing a welcome stimulus to an increasingly developed women's game.
That said, the evolution of women's football in Lithuania is about more than organisational and developmental goals: one of its key objectives is to gradually improve the standing of the senior national team.
During the qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2022, Rimantas Viktoravicius’ side finished bottom of Group H after eight defeats and just one goal. But there are still reasons to be optimistic, such as the team’s performance at the recent Our Game friendly tournament in Armenia, where they took the trophy.
"That tournament showed us that we're on the right path. The victory and the trophy were very important psychologically, because we still have some difficulty playing against Europe’s best. Losing is always difficult, but we’ve shown that we can beat teams of a similar level," team captain Milda Liuzinaite told FIFA.com.
Though beating Jordan and drawing with Armenia was impressive, one fixture at that tournament stood out from the rest: their 7-1 rout of Lebanon. The win set a new women's national team record for goals in a single game and equalled their biggest winning margin (a 6-0 win over Latvia in 2005).
"We’re growing in confidence and that will help us in the World Cup qualifiers. It's an incredibly important experience and an honour for all the players to compete with such big teams," said an upbeat Liusinait ahead of the draw for the UEFA zone qualifiers this Friday.
The 25-year-old defender finished by telling FIFA.com what it means to Lithuania to host the Women's U-19 finals in 2024. "It's a great celebration for the entire football community. It’s also an important validation of the federation’s fine work and an incredible opportunity for the players who’ll take part. It’ll be unforgettable and I hope that hosting such a big tournament will lead to more girls playing the sport we love so much."