Ahead of Wednesday’s game vs Estonia, blogger Angelo Palmeri, editor-in-chief of Rumori di Spogliatoio, an English language website on Estonian football, wrote an article looking at the Estonian team, as well as predicted XI to face Gib in the friendly.
The ‘Swedish Era’ of Estonian football
A short dive into the Estonian coaching past
Estonia has undergone through many foreign rulers in their country history: German, Danish, Swedish and lately Russians. However, upon being asked what was probably the ‘best period’, they would certainly point the finger at their Swedish neighbours who allowed the national sentiment to grow and develop almost freely.
In football, Estonia has known many foreign coaches: in the pre-war period (from 1923 till 1939) the Hungarian school reached also the Baltic coasts of the Gulf of Finland as 4 coaches out of 6 were coming from the land of the Magyars. In between, the Austrian Fritz Kerr and the legendary Albert Vollrat.
Vollrat became English Champion at Arsenal in 1933 as assistant coach of Herbert Chapman. After the war, he coached at Spartak Moscow winning two Soviet Union Cups. Bernhard Rein and Elmar Saar closed the first period of the Estonian football until the country was occupied by the USSR.
With restored independence (1991), Estonia had to re-establish their own football, including a new national team that would compete in Europe.
The very first job was assigned to Uno Piir who collected two wins in 19 games and was followed by Roman Ubakivi, the only coach of the post-war period who has never won a game: 24 matches and just one draw for his tenure. From 1996 (when the job was assigned to the Icelandic Teitur Thordarsson) to 2013, Estonia has had mostly foreign coaches on the bench: to the ‘Icelandic Period’ (1996-1999) followed a short tenure by Tarmo Rüütli (1999-2000) before the ‘Dutch Age’ seeing Arno Pijpers first (2000-2004) and Jelle Goes later (2004-2007) taking the job at the ‘Sinisärgid’ (‘blue jerseys’). Another short tenure for Danish Viggo Jensen (from August to November 2007) before the national team was firmly re-assigned to Tarmo Rüütli. Rüütli, a former footballer in the Estonian SSR, has been the most successful coach at the helm of the national team, let alone the most durable: 5 years and 10 months, from February 2008 until December 2013; 20 wins, 13 draws and 33 losses his tally over 66 games acknowledging him the most successful winning rate ever. The ‘pearl’ of his tenure was the second place at the Euro 2012 group stage qualifiers (behind Cesare Prandelli’s Italy) that meant a play-off tie against Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland.
New year, new era
Now it is this time again when the national team is entrusted to a foreigner, Swedish Magnus Pehrsson.
A past as footballer at Djurgarden IF (and a short spell at Bradford City in England – more information about him here: http://www.rumodispo.com/eesti-koondis/2014/1/19/rds-extra-koondis-magnus-pehrsson-the-forgotten-icon ) and a short experience as a coach. It is the latter which made more than one highbrow rise in the tiny Baltic Republic, will he be suitable for the job?
Introduced back in December 2013, soon after the Estonian FA confirmed that Rüütli contract was not going to be extended, Magnus has not yet had the time to meet the full squad as the game against Gibraltar will be his official debut. The squad will gather in Gibraltar two days ahead of the game with a bulk travelling from different European locations and a part of it from Tallinn.
Pehrsson declared to the press he would have been analysing the Estonian national team game in the meantime with the aim to try and implement the new philosophy embraced by the FA at all levels: the ball possession.
Nothing revolutionary, unless for the foreseeable formation. Maybe.
Looking at the list of the 20-man squad that will travel to the Iberia peninsula, Pehrsson stuck to the most recent tradition, probably guided by his assistant coach, Janno Kivisild. Kivisild is a long-term Estonian FA serving coach and he has been the same assistant coach under Tarmo Rüütli, certainly, he has guided Pehrsson in his first period of acclimatization with the Estonian football environment. However, the original list, has undergone several changes due to injuries. Estonia is bringing a squad of 17 players only to face Gibraltar. Let’s have a look at the possible starting XI and the subs.
The goalkeeper role shall not present any surprise: Sergei Pareiko is the immovable starter of the XI, with Mihkel Aksaluas safe secondon the bench. There would be also the young Marko Meerits, however he has been sidelined by a knee injury.
Moving to the line in front of the FC Volga (Russia) goalkeeper, the Captain, Ragnar Klavan will guide a 4-man defence. His career is developing successfully in Germany at FC Augsburg and he just scored his first goal during the weekend against Hannover. He is the first Estonian ever to score a goal in one of the Top5 leagues in Europe (England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France).
Ragnar’s partner in central defence will most probably be Igor Morozov. The two were forming a quite solid partnership before Morozov picked up a serious injury in August 2013 against Latvia. He has recently returned on the pitch (he plays in Hungary at Debrecen VSC) and might be given a chance to resume his international streak. The full-back positions will quite likely be occupied by Enar Jääger as right one and Tajio Teniste as left. Of the two, Teniste should be the most offensive one posing a question of vulnerability on that side.
Having privileged a 4-4-2 formation with diamond when back at Djurgarden IF and Aalborg, we could assume Magnus Pehrsson would test his credo also in the very first game of his tenure. Until September, when the Euro 2016 campaign will start, he has time to experiment something different from the traditional 4-4-2 (having one of the two strikers dropping to support the midfield) of his predecessor.
In a 4-man midfield line, it is quite likely he will field the Estonian Player of the Year 2013 Kostantin ‘Kostja’ Vassilijev, one of the most beloved footballers of the national team side and absolute protagonist of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. ‘Kostja’ is the cutting edge of the ‘Eesti Koondis’. Endowed with the best feet of the national XI, he can either serve an assist with surgical precision or finish with cool blood when getting into the spaces dug by a striker. Deadly set-pieces distance (ask Arsenal’s Szecszny who visited Tallinn with Poland two years ago) and bullet-like shots from distance are part of his repertoire. He shall have Sergei Mośnikov covering him and his long-time friend Dmitri ‘Dima’ Kruglov on the left side. The latter can be as effective in the offensive phase as in the defensive one, especially if he will have to support the less effective Teniste. Kruglov plays at Levadia, the Estonian defending Champions.
The place on the right side of the diamond shall be taken by Sander Puri who moved to England at York City FC, League Two. Due to several injuries, he has had little playing time in Yorkshire. He has been back on the bench for the Citizens. Sander is a work dog and a die-hard flanker.
The forward line will not star Henri Anier (in Scotland at Motherwell FC) Sergei Zenjov (in Ukraine at Karpaty Lviv) and Henrik Ojamaa.
The latter has picked up an injury during last weekend’s game and did not travel to Gibraltar at the very last moment. Ojamaa, among the three strikers, is still the one looking for his first goal with the national team after being rather productive at his clubs (Motherwell especially).
Magnus Pehrsson did not call another striker and decided to make go with the likes of Rimo Hunt and Tarmo Kink. This situation might lead him to field a 4-5-1 including the young Ilja Antonov (midfield engine at Levadia) in a 5-man midfield line.
In that case, the lone striker place shall go to Rimo Hunt, who has recently moved abroad (Kazakhstan) after being elected 2013 Best Player of the Estonian top flight (http://www.rumodispo.com/interviews/hunt-best-player-2013 ). He has collected just 4 caps since his first call in June. It is a sign that coaching staff is still considering him.
Rimo was a prolific scorer in season 2013 helping Levadia to clinch their 8th title thanks to his 22 goals. Physically solid, he is endowed with a good touch and is able to exploit long balls sent into spaces.
Tarmo Kink might have a chance on a 4-4-2 formation instead. The former Middlesbrough striker recently moved to a drop-zone Hungarian top-flight club (Kaposvar Rakoczi) after he had been training with Nõmme Kalju. He was on loan to Hungarian side Györ ETO as his playing rights belonged to the Italian Serie B side Varese. The club ended his contract in January upon the player’s request. Normally Tarmo would be Ojamaa reserve in a 4-4-2 formation when Ojamaa is fielded on the right flank. Kink is quite quick and is endowed with a deadly on-the-run shooting skills (ask Serbia).
Other call-ups and famous exclusions due to injuries
In the defence, the U-21 Karol Mets might be given his second cap everin the second half of the game (he is a regular at most-titled club Flora). Mikk Reintam might compete with Morozov to partnerwith Klavan, however he has not been producing memorable performances in his 10 caps with the ‘Eesti Koondis’. His return to domestic football at Estonian club Nõmme Kalju (2013 runners-up) was quite convincing as he offered a solid performance on Saturday’s debut.
Gert Kams was excluded at the last minute due to injury picked on a cup game in Finland (he plays at SJK in Veikkausliiga). The same happened to Siim Luts who had to give up due to sickness.
Joel Lindpere, right winger and a former teammate of Thierry Henry at New York Red Bulls, has not been called due to injury. He has moved to Czech Republic at the end of January (Banik Ostrava).
Following the exclusion of Aleksander Dmitrijev, Martin Vunk and Henri Anier for injuries, Magnus Pehrsson decided to call Ken Kallaste, left full-back at Nõmme Kalju and son of legendary Risto Kallaste, the flip-throw in father (an interview to Kallaste is available here: http://www.rumodispo.com/interviews/2014/1/19/meeting-risto-kallaste-the-flip-thrown-in-father ).
Another addition from the domestic league is the full back Maksim Podholjuzin, at his first call in the national team. He can play both on the left and the right and he became Estonian Champion last year at Levadia.
By Angelo Palmeri
Angelo is the founder and editor-in-chief of ‘Rumori di Spogliatoio’ (http://www.rumodispo.com/) an English speaking webportal about Estonian Football
More about the Estonian national team here: http://www.rumodispo.com/eesti-koondis/
More about some of the Internationals in the call-ups list: http://www.ohtuleht.ee/546828/from-pareiko-to-liivak-the-untold-story-of-the-estonians-in-italian-football
Full list of call-ups: http://jalgpall.ee/news.php?st=style_fp.css&news_id=6275
Possible lineup’s (Depending on formation used):