Belfast Telegraph

NI have raised the bar since our Windsor victory in 2011: Vassiljev

 

Konstantin Vassiljev
Konstantin Vassiljev

By Ian Parker

Estonia midfielder Konstantin Vassiljev has credited Northern Ireland with taking huge strides forward since the last time the two sides met in 2011.

Vassiljev scored a brace when Estonia beat Northern Ireland 2-1 at Windsor Park in a World Cup qualifier eight years ago, and could feature again when the two sides meet in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier tonight.

Estonia may have been victorious in 2011 but Northern Ireland have made the most progress since, with Michael O'Neill appointed two months after that defeat and guiding the team to Euro 2016 qualification.

"For us it was a great evening, not only because of the result but the way we played," the 34-year-old Vassiljev said. "It will stay forever in our heads and I hope tomorrow will be the same.

"I think now (Northern Ireland) are more self-confident. Eight years ago, I think we were more or less in the same position but they have improved their game and got a good result when they went to Euro 2016.

"They have had this good experience, this good emotion and they want to be good in this qualification campaign. They will be the favourite, but if we show our best qualities I think we can get our chances."

Manager Martin Reim is braced for a tough fight against a "physical" Northern Ireland.

He said: "I don't know what Michael (O'Neill) is thinking but we have seen in the last six games, home and away, they are very physical, straight in their minds and it will be a big fight.

"We have our own plan on how to play but a plan is always good in theory. We have to see on the field if it is working or not. But we came here to get a good result and we will try."

Like Northern Ireland, Estonia finished bottom of their Nations League group last year, competing a level below in League C, but finished with an encouraging 1-0 away win over Greece.

Reim said: "We got six games against strong opponents, this will help the players get better."

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