Scotland Under 17s Top Lithuania in UEFA Euro Elite Round
Scotland under 17s got away to a tremendous start in their first match in the elite round of the European Championships at Somerset Park in Ayr on Tuesday.
In the round-robin series of matches that will take place over the next few days on the west coast of Scotland, only the team that tops the group will progress to Serbia in May for the UEFA Championships.
With Denmark, Iceland and Lithuania standing between Scotland and the prestigious competition, it was essential the home side got themselves off to the best possible start.
The first 35 minutes were dominated by the Scottish youngsters with some excellent inter-passing play running the Lithuanian players ragged, with the visitors finding it difficult to break out of their own half at times.
Scotland had early chances for Telfer and Smith, with both boys seeing their chances swing high. But the omens were good as the Scots pushed forward.
Scotland players were playing passing triangles normally unseen on a Scottish football park. But Sibbald, Feruz and Telfer were linking up well. And with crosses being pinged in with stunning regularity, it appeared it would only be a matter of time before the net would bulge with the home sides' opening goal.
Chelsea's Islam Feruz was making a nuisance of himself at every turn and seemed to be at the centre of every move. But even with the trickery the player was exhibiting, he was still unable to help break the deadlock.
Between Feruz and Sibbald up front for the Scots, they continually managed to free themselves from their markers to fire attempts on goal. Sibbald was on for 17 minutes, Feruz for 18, but neither managed to hit the target.
Even Lithuania appeared to be in the mood to help its hosts open the scoring. Feruz picked up a loose defensive ball outside the box, but again he fired high. Holding his head in his hands, he knew he should have done better with the gifted chance handed him.
It was encouraging for the Scots but also frustrating to see as many opportunities in front of goal being squandered.
It took until the 29th minute for the visitors to manage an attempt on goal, but Ryan Crump in the Scottish goal was equal to it despite having been a spectator until this point.
As the half edged on, the Lithuanians started to get a grip of the ball a bit more and were the better side as the first period came to an end.
Their No. 11 Petravicius was by far their best player. And on his magnificently struck free kick from 35 yards out, keeper Crump had to be at his best in order to keep the ball from the net.
It was a magnificent strike and completely unexpected from all the 450 spectators. It stung the keeper's hands and gave stark warning that there were two teams still in the mix.
Right before the halftime whistle, Scotland captain Stuart Urqhuart made a tremendous saving tackle in the box after Petravicius managed to twist and turn his way past three defenders before readying the trigger only to have Urqhuart step in to clear the danger.
The second half started much the same as the first had finished with Lithuania in control. When a cross that was fired in on the 13th minute of the second period by the visitors deflected wildly, there was a collective sign of relief by the home fans when the ball whizzed out of play and away from goal. It was a sliced deflection that could have gone anywhere. But in this instance, the danger was cleared.
The yellow and green-shirted visitors were starting to get some width into their game and managed to fire a few high crossed balls into the box, but the Scots defence were coping amicably and clearing the danger at every turn, showing a maturity and reading of the game way beyond their years.
Scotland almost got a lucky break when an innocuous cross toward the far post looked like it was drifting well wide. But strangely, when no one was near him, the Lithuanian keeper Suvaizdis conspired to try to palm the ball into his own goal. Fortunately for him, the ball went past the post and out for a corner.
The ball was being played end to end with both sides having an equal number of chances in front of goal. At this time, the game could have gone either way. However, with 15 minutes remaining, Stuart Findlay rose above the Lithuanian defence to head home the opener much to the delight of most of the fans within Somerset Park; none more so than his screaming mother whose squeals of delight would have shattered glass.
The Lithuanians stepped up the pace after this goal, realizing that time was running out to grab something from this match. As these sands of time quickly disappeared, the long ball was being resorted to by the visitors, whilst the home side started playing keep ball, mainly in the corners of their opponent's goal areas.
The game didn't produce any more chances and after three minutes of added play, the final whistle sounded and the three points stayed with the Scotland side, giving the team a brilliant start to the three-game tournament.
Afterward, I grabbed Scotland coach Ricky Sbragia for a few words.
"We dominated the first half-hour" said Sbragia, "But Lithuania pulled themselves back in and were in control at the end of the first and at the beginning of the second.
"Some of our players were tiring in the second half, and the substitutions we made seemed to give us a boost, which ultimately led to the goal. It's a great win for us, and in light of the 2-2 draw between Denmark and Iceland tonight, it's an ideal start to the group matches.
"The players will have a restful day on Wednesday. We won't be changing our style going into the game on Thursday. The players played well tonight and created a lot of chances in front of goal. The defence was strong and the keeper had long periods without anything to do, so we are happy to continue in that vein."
Sbragia finished off by saying: "We need to play at Somerset Park more often. We have never been beaten."
Scotland's next match is Thursday against Iceland at Dumbarton Football stadium.
The other group match between Lithuania and Denmark takes place Thursay at Somerset Park in Ayr.
A win for Scotland and a draw between Denmark and Lithuania would end the group as a competition with Scotland uncatchable with six points. But let's not get carried away. We can always dream, though.
Roll on Thursday.
Marc Roseblade is a Contributor for Bleacher Report and NotJustScottishFootball. He also works as PR for Ayr United Football Academy and Galveston Pirate Soccer Club, who play in the NPSL in Texas, USA. All quotes are obtained first-hand unless otherwise stated.
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