Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland have bittersweet memories of travelling to Estonia

In charge: Martin Reim is the manager of Estonia
In charge: Martin Reim is the manager of Estonia

By Paul Ferguson

Estonia's most famous match in Tallinn came in a game they didn't actually participate in.

Back in October 1996, just five years after Fifa and Uefa accepted them in as an independent state following the break-up of the USSR, Estonia were due to play Scotland in a 1998 World Cup qualifier.

The Scots, under the leadership of Craig Brown, had trained on the eve of the match at the Kadriorg Stadium and raised concerns about the temporary floodlights which were in use for the big game.

After accepting the SFA's complaint, Fifa moved the match from its proposed evening kick-off to the afternoon, much to the disgust of their Estonian counterparts.

The Estonian FA refused to accept the ruling and when Scotland turned up at the revised time, their opponents were nowhere to be seen.

Scotland, in full kit, took to the pitch and lined up in their appropriate positions as the referee blew for the game to start with nobody in the Estonian half of the pitch. The ref quickly abandoned the game as the joyous Scots fans sang, 'There's only one team in Tallinn'.

The Estonian FA argued a "logistical problem" prevented the hosts from arriving on time and rather than award Scotland a default 3-0 victory, Fifa ordered the two nations to play again at a neutral venue.

Four months later, the game took place in Monaco and the Estonians were delighted to come away with a point as the game finished 0-0.

The Estonian FA, who were formed in 1921 but were away from the international scene from 1940 to 1991 following the annexation of the country by the Soviet Union, have never qualified for a World Cup or Euro finals.

But they came closest in 2011 when they beat humbled Nigel Worthington's Northern Ireland home and away in qualifying. A 4-1 battering at the A Le Coq Arena, the venue for tonight's game, basically signalled the end of Worthington's tenure with Northern Ireland.

Estonia finished second in Group C ahead of Serbia, Slovenia and Northern Ireland as Italy romped away with first place. In the play-off for the right to go to Poland and Ukraine, Estonia were hammered 5-1 on aggregate by Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic of Ireland.

The Estonians have struggled to be a force in either World Cup or Euro qualifying since and in the inaugural Nations League last year they were relegated from the third tier of the competition after finishing bottom behind Finland, Hungary and Greece.

Tonight's match against Northern Ireland, the third time they have played the men in green in Tallinn as they also lost 1-0 to Lawrie Sanchez's outfit in March 2004, will be their first home match in six internationals, having last played at the A Le Coq Arena last October against Hungary.

Estonia beat Greece in their final Nations League tie last November but they haven't won at home since last June when they defeated Lithuania 2-0 in the Baltic Cup.

Martin Reim, their coach, is Estonia's most capped player with 157 appearances between 1992 and 2009, while 19 year-old Erik Sorga, an uncapped striker, has scored 14 goals in 14 games for his club Flora Tallinn and will be looking to make his first start for his country.

Rauno Sappinen should start up front for Estonia and he'll have a player with vast experience just behind him in midfielder Konstantin Vassiljev, who has 112 caps and has found the net on 24 occasions.

In defence, AIK's Karol Mets will be their main man at the back while Mattias Kait, who has played a senior game during his time at Fulham, will be pushing forward from the middle of the park looking to add to his five goals in 18 international displays.

Belfast Telegraph


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