Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Meistrilliga rounds 30/31: Flora in the driving seat

Flora 3-0 Levadia

Flora have stolen a march in the race for the Meistriliiga title - their 3-0 win against rivals Levadia on Saturday was coupled with a 3-2 win for Trans over Kalju in Narva. An Aleksandrs Cekulajevs hat trick, including an injury time winner, may have caused irreparable damage to Kalju's title bid as second half goals from Nikolai Mašitšev, Andre Frolov and Hannes Anier gave Flora a comfortable sounding win. Wins for both Flora and Kalju last night has done little to change to outlook of the table. 

Kuressaare picked up two good wins to move them within a point of Viljandi in eighth. Saturday's win over FC Ajax included a late six minute hat trick from Martti Pukk who followed that up with both goals in their 2-1 win over Paide last night. Cekulajevs's five goals for Trans in their drubbing of FC Ajax has moved him past the 40 goal mark for the season - he becomes only the second player in Meistriliiga history to pass that milestone following Tarmo Neemelo's 41 goals for TVMK in 2005. 

Round 30 results - Saturday 24th September

Flora 3-0 Levadia
Viljandi 0-3 Tammeka
FC Ajax 3-5 Kuressaare
Trans 3-2 Kalju
Paide 0-1 Sillamäe 

Round 31 results - Tuesday 27th September

Kuressaare 2-1 Paide
Sillamäe 0-6 Flora
FC Ajax 0-12 Trans
Levadia 2-0 Viljandi
Tammeka 0-1 Kalju

Thursday, 22 September 2011

An Englishman in Tallinn

Originally from Lancashire, Richard Barnwell has been in Estonia for almost ten years in a career that has seen him play for some of the top Estonian clubs. Now involved in youth coaching at Levadia Tallinn, he kindly took time out to answer some questions and give an interesting first hand insight to life in Estonian football:

Hi Richard. Firstly, how did you end up in Estonia? Who have you played for in your time there?

I first came to Estonia in February 2002. The temperatures and snow gave me a great introduction to the area’s climate. The only person I knew here was my then girlfriend who I met in New York, where I lived for a year, so I decided to play football just to meet a few other like minded people. The team I joined won promotion to the First League via the play-offs, which is just below the Meistriliiga.   During the off season I received a phone call from Levadia and ended up playing for them. I played in 2003 and 2004 and also had a loan spell in Iceland.  I managed to play twice in the UEFA Cup qualifying rounds and started to coach for the club. A couple of years ago a few old Levadia players were in the Nõmme Kalju team that won promotion to the Meistriliiga and I played for them in 2008.

How have you found playing in the Meistriliiga? Who is the best player you have played with?

I remember we played Leicester City in a friendly the summer that they were relegated form the Premier League. They had Dion Dublin, Keith Gillespie, Matt Elliott etc so they were much faster and stronger than us but our players had more technical ability. This is something that the Estonian youth system is working on now. Towards the end of the 90s they took on the Dutch approach due to the national team boss [the national team had seven years of Dutch management under Arno Pijpers and Jelle Goes] but now their main focus is now on physically strong players.

The best player I’ve played with is tough.  I have been lucky to play with or against most of Estonia’s top players.

You’re involved in youth coaching at Levadia - are you optimistic about the future of Estonian football given the quality of players (and other coaches) you work with?

Absolutely. The potential is there and the results of the youth teams are getting better and better. The key for Estonia is to get young players out to top European clubs as soon as possible so they can experience as high a level as possible.

The Meistriliiga has some of the lowest attendances in Europe for a country’s top division  - can you see its profile being raised given the pull of moves abroad for the best players and the dominance of the Premier League/La Liga/Bundesliga in terms of viewing?

Estonia was home to the very last Soviet Union Basketball champions so football was always a secondary sport here but this has changed and attendances are rising. Nõmme Kalju and their approach was a breath of fresh air in 2008 with their concentrated focus on marketing and other clubs are working hard to catch up.  Other country's top teams generate revenue from TV deals and gate receipts and as both of these are low in Estonia nobody has the money to play top players big salaries.

Despite this, the amount of first team football young players get at top Estonian clubs can only be a good thing?

I agree to certain extent but the danger is they get used to that level and have very little exposure, especially when they leave the U21 team and don’t make the full Estonian team.

Henri Anier and Albert Prosa are both among the Meistriliiga top scorers at the age of 20 and have made their international debuts this season – do you have any other tips in terms of younger players to keep an eye on?

There are quite of lot of potentials but it wouldn’t be fair to label them too soon. In my U14 team I’ve had 6-7 players playing in the Estonian U15 team so I’ll be working hard to get them some exposure later this year.

The Estonian national team has done well in Euro 2012 qualifying (the Faroes game aside!), with a win in Serbia and two excellent wins against Slovenia and Northern Ireland - do you think this is a reflection of the improvement in standard of coaching of players from a young age in recent years?

I think there is definitely an improvement in coaching in Estonia. Urmas Kirs (former Estonian legend) heads up the coaching system here and there are several Pro Licence holders. But for the national team they have some great young guys as you mentioned but they need to have all their players fit to compete with other nations as there isn’t great depth in the squad.  I was lucky to play for Tarmo Rüütli at Levadia and he is by far the best coach in the country. His experience is key to all the positive results they have.

Flora or Kalju for the title? Or a late surge from Levadia?

I think Levadia are just too far away now. They have had a change of coach mid-season and I would say they miss a goal scorer.  My head says Flora but as neutral I want to see Kalju cause a surprise. Levadia play both teams again and it should go to the wire.

And lastly, what’s your favourite and least favourite thing about living in Estonia?

The best thing is the quality of life here in the capital. The worst is the darkness in winter.

Thanks Richard!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Meistriliiga week 29 - Still tight at the top

Kalju 2-1 Viljandi, plus other goals

Flora and Kalju both won at the weekend to remain level on points at the top of the Meistriliiga table. Flora won 4-1 in the early kick off in Tartu against Tammeka to put the pressure on Kalju. Flora raced into a 2-0 lead within 25 minutes through goals from Nikolai Masitsev and captain Karl Palatu. Albert Prosa continued his good season, reducing the deficit with a finish from within the six yard box on the hour. Flora pulled away again though with further goals from Hannes Anier and Zakaria Beglarisvili to make the scoreline more comfortable. Kalju made slightly harder work of Viljandi, despite being 2-0 up with 20 minutes with goals from Tarmo Neemelo and Alo Barengrub. But Andrei Veis's goal for Viljandi just before half time meant the rest of the game was not as comfortable for Kalju as it could have been. 

Tammeka 1-4 Flora

Elsewhere, there were wins for Trans over Kuressaare and for Sillamae over FC Ajax, while Paide picked up a good point in a goalless draw at Levadia. This weekend sees Flora and Levadia meet again at the A.Le Coq Arena while Kalju face Trans in Narva in a set of games that could have a major say in where the title ends up.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Recent round up - Estonia 4-1 Northern Ireland and a win apiece for Flora and Kalju

Estonia 4-1 Northern Ireland

Firstly, apologies for the delay in this update, have been in Bosnia for the last week (amazing country, btw). Estonia kept their Euro 2012 qualification hopes alive with an excellent 4-1 win over Northern Ireland at the A.Le Coq Arena on Tuesday 6th September. The goals came from Martin Vunk, Tarmo Kink, Sergei Zenjov and Kaimar Saag. Serbia's 3-1 win over the Faroe Islands keeps them in second in Group C, a point ahead of Estonia, but they face Italy in Belgrade on 7th October and travel to Slovenia on 11th October while Estonia have one game remaining against Northern Ireland in Belfast. Serbia remain favourites to qualify but stranger things have happened. 

In the Meistriliiga, Flora and Kalju have met twice in the past week as both sides look to push clear in the title race. However, a win a piece hasn't provided much clarity.

Kalju 3-0 Flora

In the first meeting between the sides, in front of nearly 3000 at the Hiiu Staadion, Kalju ran out comfortable 3-0 winners - Alan Garcia Gutierrez and Kristen Viikmae putting them two up before the break and Tarmo Neemelo adding a third with twenty minutes to go. Flora though avenged that defeat with a 1-0 win at the A.Le Coq Arena on Tuesday night. Nikolai Masitsev scored the winner on 22 minutes and that result leaves both teams on 60 points with Flora holding the head to head advantage and a game in hand. Today sees Flora travel to play Tammeka in Tartu and Kalju host Viljandi.

Elsewhere, Levadia scored 13 without reply in two matches against FC Ajax and Trans twice beat Viljandi to stay in touch with the leaders. Sillamae's two wins over Kuressaare cements their fifth place position and Paide did the double over Tammeka to move clear in sixth place. 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Slovenia 1-2 Estonia

Slovenia 1-2 Estonia

Estonia put their recent run of bad form behind them to score a vital win over Slovenia in Ljubljana last night that still leaves them with a chance of a playoff place in Euro 2012 qualifying Group C. Estonia face Northern Ireland in Tallinn on Tuesday night in a match that could end both sides hopes of second place. Their final game is the return fixture in Belfast on 7th October. Serbia must remain favourites for second spot though, as they have a game in hand and face the Faroe Islands on Tuesday night. How Estonia must now wish they'd taken three points in Torshavn in June.

Konstantin Vassiljev, who has spent the past few years playing his club football in Slovenia, put Estonia ahead from the penalty spot just before the half hour after Slovenian goalkeeper Samir Handanovic had brought down Sergei Zenjov. Slovenia looked to have rescued a point late on when Tim Matavz tapped home from close range, but Estonia had time to conjure an 81st minute winner when substitute Ats Purje turned well on the edge of the penalty area and fired home. It was Estonia's first win since beating Uruguay in March and their first goal since Vassiljev's late equaliser against Serbia, also in March.