By Michael Burgess in Vilnius

In their long history, it's doubtful the All Whites have had many more intriguing fixtures than Monday's (NZT) encounter with Lithuania.

One of the joys of football is that it is played across the globe, but Lithuania is an outpost.

Their team has struggled severely over the last few years to the point that locals are struggling to maintain enthusiasm.


While the old town and streets of Vilnius are beautiful, filled with wonderful history and architecture, there hasn't been much splendour about the football team.

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"Our team is no good," bemoaned a taxi driver. "They don't know how to play, so we don't want to watch."

He won't be going along, and neither will many of the locals it seems.

The national stadium only holds 5,000, but won't be full even if the local federation is offering free tea and coffee to all spectators.

It's partly because of the current malaise around the team, who were smashed 6-0 by Portugal last week.

Lithuania has never been a big footballing nation – their national sport is basketball – and they are currently at a low ebb.

Their most recent win came last March against Armenia and they have lost almost all of their fixtures since then, albeit they are often over matched against better European teams.


The compact stadium would be ideal in an Auckland scenario, in terms of size, but the artificial turf is unusual.

The All Whites team will have a completely different look to the one that faced Ireland.

Winston Reid, Chris Wood and Ryan Thomas are back with their clubs, and none of the other starters in Dublin will be on from the beginning.

That means Michael Woud will be in goal, and a back four of Tim Payne, Bill Tuiloma, Tommy Smith and debutant James McGarry.

The midfield trio will be anchored by Alex Rufer, with Michael McGlinchey and Matt Ridenton.

Marco Rojas adds some experience to the front three, alongside Andre De Jong and Elliott Collier.

That was always Hay's plan, which he had expressed publicly and privately, as the coaching staff want to give every player an opportunity to show their wares.

The XI is missing some polish, but Hay wants a similar approach.

"We want to be brave, possession based," said Hay. "We are building a style of play, so I won't ask the players to do anything differently."

He admits the surface will be a challenge, with the bounce, the roll of the ball and the pace off the turf, but points out that Bill Tuiloma and Tommy Smith (among others) regularly play on turf for their clubs.

"It's different but you have to adapt," said Smith, who will captain the team. "I've played on it in the States and it's just a matter of getting used to it."

Hay is expecting a confrontational style from Lithuania.

"Physically they are a big side, strong and robust," said Hay. "At set piece time we are going to have some real challenges. The fullbacks go, overlap a lot. It will be tough, a bit scrappy and the players need to show they can deal with it."

It seems like a chance for a rare result in Europe, to go with the win over Georgia and draw with Estonia (2006), draw with Wales (2007) and victory over Serbia (2010) but Hay is downplaying that possibility.

"In 12 months time that would be more of the focus," said Hay. "But now the focus is about seeing which players are capable of moving forward with us. [The result] is not the absolute focus but I know players will go out wanting to win and hopefully the result takes care of itself."