An affair of the Hearts awaits in Lithuania

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The Independent Football

At dozens of venues scattered across the Continent, national pride will be deeply evident this week as another destination on the road to Euro 2008 is ticked off. Nowhere will there be such conflict of club loyalty as in Kaunas. Just a short walk down the cramped hallway of the St Darius and St Girenas Stadium, seven colleagues from Heart of Midlothian will be separated by the duty of patriotism as Lithuania face Scotland in Group B.

The Edinburgh club have not just put the heart and soul into Walter Smith's squad - with four current players and three former ones - they also provide three for the hosts. It would have been four if Edgaras Jankauskas was fit, but the former Porto striker has a thigh injury that will prevent him being in direct - and painful - opposition to his rugged club captain, Steven Pressley.

The game is even being staged at the home of the other club run by Hearts' millionaire owner, Vladimir Romanov. He boughtJankauskas, then swiftly sent him on loan to Tynecastle, but Uefa insist there is no infraction of rules. The man whose Kaunas-based bank sponsor Hearts will witness this unique example of international football's civil war.

Had Andy Webster signed a new contract, there would have been five Hearts players in Scotland's ranks. The Wigan-bound defender will be at home as Craig Gordon, Steven Pressley, Robbie Neilson and Paul Hartley - as well as former Hearts players David Weir and Gary Naysmith of Everton and Aberdeen's Scott Severin - hear the voices of their club-mates Saulius Mikoliunas, Deividas Cesnauskis and Marius Zaliukas coming from the other dressing room.

"It's vital I have bragging rights when I return," smiled Pressley. "The wind-ups have started. For Scotland, six points aren't an absolute must, but it's very impor-tant we try to achieve that to give ourselves the opportunity to progress. The games people expect us to win, we have to win.

"It is a shame about Edgaras. He has been plagued by injuries so far this season. He's a key player for Hearts so it's disappointing that he's out. I would've loved to face him over there."

Kaunas hold the contracts of eight Hearts players - Jankauskas, Cesnauskis, Mikoliunas, Zaliukas, Nerijus Barasa, Roman Bednar and Portuguese recruits Jose Goncalves and Bruno Aguiar. The Hearts coach, Valdas Ivanauskas, was Lithuania's first star export when he moved to SV Hamburg. He recognises the special ingredient in his polyglot squad of 10 nationalities: "We have very big characters, Scottish characters with high quality."

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