With no reliance on Wikipedia or obscure football forums found through google, TFK present the Bluffer’s Guide to the Estonian national football team who stand in the way of Irish qualification to Euro 2012.
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The best place to start any article is always with a conclusion. Thus for anybody who has no interest in picking their way through the contradictory sentences and inelegant syntax to decipher some sort of fundamental message: Estonia aren’t all that better than you’d expect. They present no greater obstacle than Armenia and should be overwhelmed by the abundance of stars at Trapattoni’s disposal.
Euro 2012 Qualifying Campaign
The Estonians surprised everyone by scrambling to second place in Qualifying Group C. Having lost to the Faroe Islands in June they stood on 7 points from 7 games and at the start of the September round of internationals they trailed Slovenia (11 points from 7 games), Northern Ireland (9 points from 6 games), Serbia (8 points from 6 games) and Italy who were presumably way out in front. They produced a run of form to win in Slovenia before beating Northern Ireland twice but their eventual second place finish owes much to the collapse in form of those ahead of them in the group.
What is striking about their EC 2012 qualifying campaign is that their away form was markedly superior to their home results. Three of their five victories came on the road (against Serbia, Slovenia and Northern Ireland) and half their goals scored were in away games. They also conceded 14 goals - more than anyone in the group other than the Faroes and more than any other team who finished in the top two positions in any of the qualifying groups.
There are plenty of other negative spins to put on their second place finish (e.g. their points per game is lower than any other second placed team) but the overall picture is of a team that performed better than expected but benefited from a simultaneous collapse in form from three rivals to leave them in second place overall. That they managed that having lost at the Faroe Islands either warrants praise for their other results or criticism for losing to a fishing village. Regardless, they turned their form around spectacularly and three successive competitive victories is not something Ireland have managed for a long time.* It is worth remembering that they nearly lost twice to Brian Kerr’s men, two stoppage time goals in the home game rescued a win for Estonia from the jaws of an embarrassing defeat.
Wild Assumption #1: They’re not too clever at the back.
Wild Assumption #2: They were handed their second place finish on a plate so will be delighted to get this far.
Previous Qualifying Campaigns
The success away from Talinn isn’t a pattern emerging from previous qualification campaigns - they only achieved a single away point in their underwhelming effort to qualify for World Cup 2010 (though they did finish ahead of their seeding and ahead of Armenia by coming fifth). It’s difficult to read too much into games from 2 and 3 years ago but the subsequent form of Armenia and the talent available to Belgium, Turkey, Bosnia and Spain means that was a difficult group that Estonia had little chance of progressing from. Nevertheless they managed to ship 24 goals in those 10 games, suggesting their defensive woes are nothing new.
Conveniently their results from Euro 2008 qualifying support that theory - 21 goals conceded in 12 games is marginally better but it confirms a historic tendency to give goals away. They managed one point from two games against Macedonia in 2007/08 but failed to score in any of their other games outwith the double header with the Pyrenees state. Steve Staunton’s Ireland would have beaten them easily.
Wild Assumption #3: They’re plenty of catching up to do to match our magnificent football history.
Estonia’s squad is relatively youthful but they have managed to accrue a wealth of international caps at relatively young ages. One or two of the names might not be familiar to the casual armchair sports fan but as foreigners you can safely expect they’ll be technically sound with one or two cynical elements though they’ll generally shy away from the rough stuff.
Barring a complete failure in my ability to read Wikipedia they’re certain to start with 34 year-old <span style="color: #0000ff;]Sergei Pareiko in goals. The Wisla Krakow player is a goalkeeper by trade, hence his selection in this position for his national team, and has had a decent career in the Russian Premier League before moving to Poland and winning a league championship in his first season there.
Along with Pareiko, <span style="color: #0000ff;]Enar Jaager is one of three other players to feature in all ten qualifying games so far. He is a natural right back who has spent a few games in the centre of defence over the course of his career. After failing to make an impact at Serie B side Ascoli in 2009/10 he has returned to Aalesunds in Norway.
On the other side of defence expect to see <span style="color: #0000ff;]Ragnar Klavan. The 26 year-old Scorpio is possibly the most celebrated of the current Estonian squad and is currently holding down the left back position at Eredivisie table-topppers AZ Alkmaar. He has 74 caps to his name at the age of 26 and has amassed over 150 appearances in the Dutch top flight in his career so far. It may be worthwhile switching our wingers to take turns running at Jaager on the other flank.
The centre backs are likely to be <span style="color: #0000ff;]Raio Piiroja <span style="color: #000000;](who will captain the team) and either <span style="color: #0000ff;]Andrei Stepanov or <span style=“color: #0000ff;]Taavi Rahn. Piiroja has 106 caps for Estonia and at 32 years of age has just moved to Vitesse in the Eredvisie having spent most of his professional career in the Tippeligaen in Norway. He stands 6’3” tall so (Wild Assumption #4: He’ll be a threat from set pieces). Taavi Rahn featured in 9 of Estonia’s qualification games and has a wonderfully odd selection of clubs across some of eastern Europe’s lesser leagues. He is now based in China’s second division which may or may not explain why he didn’t feature in Estonia’s last game against Northern Ireland - it’s equally possible he was injured. Stepanov filled in against the 6 Counties, and in the subsequent friendly against Ukraine.
The two wingers are both everpresent in competitive games in this campaign. 23 year-0ld <span style="color: #0000ff;]Sander Puri will play on the right. He moved to Larissa in Greece last year but has been unable to command a regular spot at the club so after a spell on loan in Poland he now plies his trade in Hungary’s top division with the beautifully named Lombard-Papa. <span style="color: #0000ff;]Dmitri Kruglov is a left back at club level who has been rewarded for some decent club and international form with a move to Rostov in the Russian Premier League. The combination with Klavan will allow both players to interchange and makes for a (relatively) formidable left flank.
The rest of the midfield is less set in stone to the casual observer of Estonian football. The natural defensive instincts of <span style="color: #0000ff;]Aleksandr Dmitrijev <span style="color: #000000;](Ural in the Russian second tier) have been valued by Tarmo Ruutli throughout the campaign and with no goals to show for his 70 caps to date it’s fair to say he operates in a restricted role. He took on some of the playmaking duties in the recent victory over Northern Ireland in the absence of <span style="color: #0000ff;]Konstantin Vasilljev from the starting lineup but is likely to play a more conservative game against the creative threat of Andrews and Whelan.
Vasilljev was a surprise omission from that last game but he came off the bench to score twice and effectively seal Estonia’s play-off spot (though they had to wait for a gift from Serbia a few days later). The Amkar Perm playmaker is the most talented attacking talent at Estonia’s disposal and would have been likely to regain his place over Famagusta’s <span style="color: #0000ff;]Martin Vunk but the late arrival of MLS based <span style="color: #0000ff;]Joel Lindpere has changed the equation. The Red Bulls star (he was their 2010 MVP) has possibly rejoined the national team a little too late but he’ll certainly be an option off the bench or in a 5 man midfield that may take the field in Dublin.
The strikers are a relatively average bunch. <span style=“color: #0000ff;]Jarmo Ahjupera is a lanky 27 year-old with 14 caps and no international goals to his name. He has a strike-rate of around 50% in the Hungarian Soproni Liga however and at 6’7” he is part of a physically imposing Estonian team. He has edged <span style="color: #0000ff;]Kaimar Saag out of the equation recently to earn the right to partner Middlesbrough’s <span style="color: #0000ff;]Tarmo Kink up front. He is another well-travelled pro with a moderate scoring record but boasts a terrific long range shot http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kI7HNjDobJY]according to youtube and is almost equally at home on the wing.
Estonia are an average team on a par with Armenia. They don’t have a tremendous amount of attacking talent and their shooting from distance, a regular source of goals so far, has been well-flagged in advance of the playoff. Opportunities to qualify for a major tournament don’t get much better than this.
<span style="font-size: x-small;]* this is a guess.
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