Šiauliai “Gintra” team meets the long-awaited challenges in international arenas. On August 8-10, the Lithuanian champions will play two Baltic League matches in Estonia, after which it will be clear whether the Šiauliai team will be able to defend the title, and on August 15, the team will go to the UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifying tournament in Poland.
In the QR tournament, which will be held in the city of Lodz, located in the middle of Poland, the team will be waiting for strong opponents. On August 18, in the semi-finals, our team will meet the Finnish champion “Kups”. After winning, we would face the winner of the pair of Lodz “Uks sms Łódź” (Poland) and Brussels “RSC Anderlecht” (Belgium) for the only ticket to the main tournament of the Champions League on August 21.
Welcoming the most important part of the season, the head coach of the team, K. Petkov, says that the team’s sports form is still in the section of the rising curve, and he views the selection group as extremely equal, in which, according to the coach, the Brussels team has a light favorite status.
“This is a time when absolutely everything matters. The format of the Champions League qualifying stage can be said to be “die or live”, so success is determined by all the small details adding up to the overall picture. We are glad that we managed to do a lot of important work during the summer period and to call in the expected reinforcement”,- the coach started the conversation.
– Coach, five new players joined the team. How do you assess their integration process, what have you already seen and what can be expected from the newcomers?
– Speaking of sequence, first of all we managed to implement a deal, which I would consider one of the biggest – Algimante Mikutaite back to the team. Algimante is a great experienced player who knows the organization well, understands its goals correctly and can give a lot. She was immediately entrusted with the duties of captain. Next, two more local players joined the team – Marija Galkina came from Vilnius, Meida Proscevičiūtė from Joniškis. Marija has great potential, I think her ball handling and technical skills are currently the best of all Lithuanian defenders playing in the A League. She is still a young player whose prospects I believe we will talk about again and again, but at the same time we can expect a significant influence from her on the court even today. Maria already managed to prove it in the control match. Meida’s return to Šiauliai and to our organization is an appreciation of the fact that young players themselves notice the possibilities, our philosophy and feel that they can raise their game curve up here. Meida is characterized by explosive speed, high energy, and the limits of its possibilities are very wide. We see her motivation and desire, so we believe that by working purposefully, she will have great opportunities to reveal her full potential in a few years. The team was also strengthened by two more americans in different positions – defender Emily Goodson and striker Miracle Porter. Emily has good soccer fundamentals, the right attitude, she played at a strong university and she fit into the team very quickly when she arrived. We know more or less what we can expect from her, and the first weeks have shown that she lives up to expectations. Coming from Reims club in the French top league, Miracle allows us to expect results here and now. Obviously, that’s what we expect, because we had problems in attack, and Miracle is a very talented, strong physical striker from whom we really expect a lot.
– You have been training the team for more than six months. What positive developments do you see in the development process of the organization compared to your first days at the club?
– At the beginning of the season, all the changes seemed quite dramatic, but I knew that the situation would stabilize if we clearly outlined our directions, values, and strategy for several years and got to work. Of course, the results also play not the last role, but the most important thing is that we remain in the leading position in the A-League and are in control of the situation. I think that the purposeful and consistent work of our organization is appreciated by the joining players who show confidence and desire to be a part of it. We must continue to work to bring even more talented, motivated young local players into the squad to get off to a smooth start to the season ahead. I believe that we are moving in the right direction, and the most important thing is not to lose that direction.
– How do you assess the fact that the average age of the team is quite young, and in international competitions experience can make influence in the final result?
– Sometimes titles are won by more experienced teams, and sometimes young, hungry teams boast great achievements. Of course, I’m always in favor of the right balance. To tell the truth, I see it in our team. We have players with experience in the Champions League, other strong European leagues, international tournaments, we have players who are hungry to gain that experience and show themselves. The most important thing is not how much experience a player has, but how she uses it, passes it on to others. I see that our team is ambitious and hungry, and how will it be realized on the field.
– First of all, we will go to Estonia, where two matches of the Baltic League will be played. After them, it will be possible to find out whether the team managed to defend the championship title. It would probably be fun to go to the Champions League selection in a positive mood?
– Yes, without a doubt. The title of the Baltic League is one of our goals for the season, so we take this match very seriously. We need to be well prepared physically for both matches as we will play two matches in three days. This will require all players in the lineup to be 100 percent ready to contribute. We cannot underestimate the Saku “Sporting” team, but the second match against the potentially more capable Estonian champion Tallinn “Flora” will be a very serious test for us. It probably doesn’t make sense to compare last year’s and this year’s teams, because at least our team has changed a lot, but it’s clear that it wasn’t easy last year, so even now we’ll have to give everything on the field and save no money if we want to achieve a positive result.
– The most important challenge of the season is also right here – UEFA Champions League QR. The draw determined that we will meet the Finnish champion Kuopio “Kups” in the semi-finals of the QR group. What should we be prepared for and what can we expect from the competitors?
– First of all, a tough physical fight, which the Finnish team will surely offer us. It is important to withstand it in every micro-duel, as opponents will likely try to create advantages here. Generally speaking, “Kups” is a capable team with a very even composition, in which it is difficult to see clear leaders, but at the same time it is not easy to find weak sides. However, this is our task as coaches, so we will still analyze the opponent’s game and look for ways to create a useful course of play for ourselves, what plan to follow. Tactical schemes, the movement of players on the field will have a significant impact on the final result, we still have time to prepare for that.
– The selection group looks really complicated at first glance, but the name of RSC “Anderlecht” club sounds the most ominous. In your opinion, is this team the clear favorite of the group?
– The group is not an easy one, all the teams are more or less close, the Brussels team is the favorite, but I would not dare to say that it is bright, especially considering the format of the qualification stage. I don’t think that the “minus” system from one match is the competition format that many teams would favor. We want to emphasize that the UEFA Champions League is something that all teams look forward to throughout the year. Given that there is no lower league in women’s football, as men’s football currently has both the UEFA European Cup and the UEFA Confederations Cup, I think that one unsuccessful game wiping out an entire season in Europe is too high a price to pay. In order to develop women’s football, raise the level of professionalism, a similar model should emerge as in men’s football, and I would say that there is already a delay in this matter. Back to our tasks, I believe we can surprise, it is important to enjoy every minute of the Champions League qualifiers.