Belfast Telegraph

Surely Estonia can’t sink Republic too?

By Daniel McDonnell

Republic of Ireland eyes were smiling after yesterday's play-off draw in Krakow, but the Estonians were also in pretty good form as well.

Estonia beat Northern Ireland home and away — 4-1 in Tallinn and 2-1 in Belfast — in the qualifying campaign.

So they should know what to expect when they take on Northern Ireland’s neighbours.

Defender Richard Dunne suggested on Tuesday evening that the Republic were the seeded team that the quartet on the other side of the draw would have wanted. He was right.

The reaction from Estonian football circles was positive. Both coach Tarmo Ruutli and the president of the Estonian FA, Aivar Pohlak, voiced their satisfaction.

“I'm pleased to get Ireland,” explained Pohlak. “That's what I wanted.”

Ruutli said: “I had no preferences. But Ireland is a good match. The good thing from now is that we have a sense of direction.”

However he conceded that recent experience against Northern Ireland was a major factor.

The Estonians, to qualify for the play-offs, needed a favour from Slovenia — who beat Serbia 1-0 on Tuesday.

“I don't think the Republic of Ireland were the easiest of our potential opponents,” said Ruutli. “All the teams at this stage are strong and they proved it during the group stage.

“However, I won't deny the fact that we wanted to face Ireland more than the others.

“Maybe the experience of our victories against Northern Ireland will help us. Both teams have the same British style of football.

“Everybody has a chance, there's no doubt about it,” said Ruutli.

One of his assistants, Janno Kivisild, was slightly more bullish.

“Ireland was the best choice for Estonia,” he said, pointing out that his nation have improved considerably since they last met in the World Cup 2002 qualifiers.

“Yes, they are a great team,” he said. “And we have played them twice before and lost on both occasions. But we are a better team now. We have really improved.”

Estonia are looking to sample a major tournament for the first time in their history and they believe that qualification would greatly improve the standing of the game in a country where it is down the list of priorities.

The proximity to Poland and Ukraine is also a significant incentive. The Ukrainians visited Tallinn on Tuesday night and came away with a 2-0 friendly win.

The Republic will start their latest attempt to qualify for a major tournament in Estonia on Friday, November 11, with the return leg at Dublin's Aviva Stadium on Tuesday, November 15.

“It is extremely positive for Ireland that we will play the first leg away,” veteran coach Giovanni Trapattoni said.

“We should not underestimate our opposition, or any team, including Estonia.

“To have made it through to the play-off, they must have quality and mental fortitude,” he warned.

“Our build up to this stage of the competition has shown us the importance of organisation, attention to detail and self-belief.

“That will be vitally important to us as we prepare for these games in November.”

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