Lithuanian junior football player Zemyna Lekaviciute (L) attends a training in Vilnius on May 29, 2017.
In basketball-obsessed Lithuania, women’s football is gaining new fans after the sensational debut of 10-year-old Zemyna Lekaviciute as the Baltic state’s youngest-ever scorer in a second-league match. / AFP PHOTO / Petras Malukas
In basketball-obsessed Lithuania, women’s football is gaining new fans after the sensational debut of 10-year-old Zemyna Lekaviciute as the Baltic state’s youngest-ever scorer in a second-division match.
After just five minutes on the pitch, Zemyna took a pass and sent the ball past goalkeeper Agne Ratkeviciute, who is more than twice her age, handing her Zalgiris Vilnius reserves team a 10-0 lead over Sesupe.
“This was her very first appearance in (second-division) Lyga 1 and she became the youngest scorer in Lithuania,” beamed Svajunas Stravinskas, manager of the women’s football academy at Zalgiris.
Passing the ball to Zemyna was Greta Jaroseviciute, the other youngster on the pitch born in 2006.
Wearing the green shirt of the Zalgiris reserve team, and reaching barely up to her fellow players’ shoulders, Zemyna also grabbed an assist for a late goal that pushed the final score up to 11-0.
– ‘Maximalist’ –
It all started four years ago.
“One day, when my dad and I were going home from the kindergarten, we saw an ad inviting kids to play football,” says Zemyna, flashing a smile.
At seven, when she started elementary school, she also started training with boys.
“We strongly encouraged her to play,” says her father Evaldas Lekavicius, sitting on the team bench and talking about his passion for football and small teams like Iceland or the Balkan countries.
“Today her greatest advantage is her speed,” he says, praising also his daughter’s character.
“Zemyna is a maximalist. In our family, she has the strongest character,” Lekavicius added with a smile.
At almost eleven, the girl wearing the number three, which her dad had worn during his amateur career, has become the hope of Lithuanian women’s football, together with Jaroseviciute.
Zemyna has been practising passes, tactics and skills with much older girls three times a week on one of the few pitches in central Vilnius since 2016.
Speed and ball control are her favourite aspects of the game.
“Zemyna plays like a boy of the same age,” says her coach Oleg Kricun.
“She’s a dribbler like no other. Her goal was extraordinary: a child who scores even though the ball arrived at the height of her belly,” he added.
On the day of the game, Zemyna’s parents were not at the stadium.
“When Zemyna scored, the coach called us and said — ‘there you go’,” says her 42-year-old father, who works in genetic engineering.
– Not just football –
In her room, Zemyna displays a cup and 27 medals from other sports.
Football is just one of her many passions. There is also scout camp, and she is dreaming about competing in a biathlon, a winter sport combining cross-country skiing and shooting.
Women’s football in Lithuania is suffering from a lack of finances.
Zemyna’s three weekly training sessions cost 45 euros ($50), against the average monthly wage of 817 euros. Equipment and transport are in addition.
Zalgiris’s women’s football team is the only Vilnius-based team also playing in Lyga A, the country’s top flight division.
It has received 3,000 euros in support from the city of Vilnius, while the men’s team secured a subsidy of 868,000 euros.
Lithuania’s female footballers are now pinning their hopes on the 2018 under-17 European championship hosted by the country to help promote the sport and make life rosier for young players like Zemyna.