Belfast Telegraph

Estonia v Northern Ireland: Estonians on a high after slaying Slovenia

By Steven Beacom

The mood amongst the Estonia team is buoyant. Makes a change from how they felt in June.

Back then they lost 2-0 to the Faroe Islands. Not renowned for letting sporting results unduly upset them, there was a rare sense of humiliation amongst the football followers of the state, in the Baltic region of northern Europe, when their national side suffered that defeat.

That's why they weren't expecting too much in Slovenia on Friday night, only to be shocked again, though this time in a positive way, thanks to a 2-1 success, labelled as one of Estonia's greatest footballing victories.

Another win at home to Northern Ireland tonight and one at Windsor Park next month and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Estonia could be going to the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine.

Visiting boss Nigel Worthington has been doing his homework on them.

“The Estonian team will be tough to play against. I’ve watched DVDs of past games and they are a very hard working side. It wasn't a surprise to me that they beat Slovenia,” he said.

“That was a very good performance from them. They have a real chance of qualifying too, so just like ourselves they will be going for the win. I'm sure they will be in confident mood after the victory over Slovenia.”

Estonia also won in Serbia earlier in the campaign making that loss to the Faroes even more bizarre. They are fourth in Group C, one point ahead of Northern Ireland and one behind Serbia and Slovenia.

Normally Northern Ireland are up against larger nations, but tonight we are the big boys because Estonia only has a population of 1.34 million — and it's said that there are 10 women here to every man. No wonder the blokes in Tallinn have a spring in their step.

Estonia skipper Raio Piiroja and his team-mates will aim to make them even happier tonight.

Piiroja is the inspiration in the side, with over 100 caps. Playing at the heart of the defence, he is the man others look to. If Northern Ireland's strikers can get under his skin, they can unsettle the whole team.

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