Kaunus present serious test for Liverpool

Liverpool are about to find a Beatles fan and the Lithuanian version of Roman Abramovich blocking their path on the road to the Champions League group stages.

Liverpool are about to find a Beatles fan and the Lithuanian version of Roman Abramovich blocking their path on the road to the Champions League group stages.

Their next opponents, Lithuanian champions Kaunas, will be a much tougher prospect than the defiant but outclassed Welsh minnows TNS in the last round.

And the man behind Kaunas has a special place in his heart for Liverpool.

Vladimir Romanov, an entrepreneur and self made success, started his business life selling Beatles and Rolling Stones records from a market stall, and he will certainly want to visit the Beatles museum in Liverpool when his club play the second leg at Anfield on August 2.

Kaunas have money, are more than half way through their league season and fully match fit.

They are sponsored by the UBIG banking organisation, owned by multi-millionaire Romanov, the man who bought control of Hearts last season and has just tempted George Burley north of the border on a six-figure salary.

Romanov also has sponsorship control of a team in Belarus, and has become an instant hero in one half of Edinburgh by stopping the hugely unpopular sale of Hearts’ Tynecastle ground while taking on the club’s debts.

Romanov’s spokesman in Scotland, Charlie Mann, said: “He famously started selling Beatles records when he was younger, he’s a big fan and will enjoy his trip to Liverpool.

“He doesn’t own Kaunas, his company is their main sponsor, and the only club he has shares in is Hearts. But he’s a massive football fan and a staunch supporter of Kaunas, his home town club.

“As for Hearts, he is the major shareholder and saved the club from moving from Tynecastle.”

He also loaned Kaunas’ top signing Deividas Cesnauskis, aquired from Russian champions Lokomotiv Moscow in February, to Hearts where he joined two more of his countrymen, Saulius Mikoliunas and Mariusu Kizysu.

Mikoliunas was the player involved in the infamous match with Rangers in March when he ended up with an eight-match ban for barging a linesman after a controversial penalty decision that prompted Hearts to launch an unsuccessful appeal to the SFA.

The Lithuanian FA president Liutauras Varanavicius is also now on the Hearts board as Romanov extends his control at the club and their links with his country.

But Kaunas, who have won their league for six seasons in succession, are in turmoil this term – having had three coaches in three months and falling 12 points behind leaders Ekranas at the half-way stage of their league campaign, which runs from April to November.

They only beat off Ekranas’s challenge for their title on the last day of the previous season when they beat them 2-0 and since then, coach Valadas Ivanauskas has been axed.

His caretaker replacement Eugenijus Riabovas has also gone and been replaced by Aleksandr Piskariov.

But there is now a very real prospect of Kaunas missing out on a seventh title on the trot.

After two league defeats in the last five games, Piskariov has just had the dreaded vote of confidence from club president Gintas Ugianskis and is under huge pressure to progress further in the Champions League.

Kaunas have just beaten Torshavn of the Faroe Islands 8-2 on aggregate and will be confident of upsetting the European champions in Tuesday first leg at their 8,500 capacity Dariaus ir Gireno stadium.

They have played both Celtic and Rangers in the last few years at this same stage. Celtic won 4-0 in Lithuania and 1-0 at Parkhead in 2003 while Rangers won 4-1 at home and were held 0-0 away in 2001.

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