Estonia 0-4 Ireland
Estonia coach Tarmo Rüütli had to admit that his side’s chances of qualifying for Euro 2012 were all but gone after the disastrous 0-4 defeat against Republic of Ireland on Friday. When asked if the tie was over, Rüütli replied ‘almost’.
The first leg of the play off was greeted with much excitement in Tallinn as 10,500 crammed into the A.Le Coq Arena for the biggest match in the twenty years since Estonia regained independence.
The game started cagily with little quality or ball retention from either side. The Irish struck first on 13 minutes as Aiden McGeady was allowed too much time to dink a cross into the area and Keith Andrews leapt highest to head home. Estonia responded well to the goal, dominating possession and territory for the next 15 minutes but with little penetration in the final third. The closest they came was via two long range efforts from Konstantin Vassiljev – one deflected just over the bar and one, that had Shay Given very worried, sailing just inches wide.
Estonia’s cause was dealt a blow by the sending off of centre back Andrei Stepanov on 34 minutes for a second yellow card. Both challenges were bookings, the second arguably a straight red. Ireland though didn’t look to have a man advantage for the rest of the half as Estonia adapted to three at the back and continued to have a lot of the ball.
A second goal was always going to seal it for Ireland and, on 66 minutes, it was provided by Jon Walters scoring his first international goal with a back post header after a looping ball from Robbie Keane. That effectively settled the result, but a goal back for Estonia would still make the second leg awkward for Ireland. However, two goals from Keane (taking him on to 53 in all) in the last 20 minutes put the result and the tie beyond doubt. The first was a tap in after Sergei Pareiko could only get a foot to Andrews’s free kick and the second from the penalty spot after Ats Purje had clipped Stephen Hunt in the box.
Estonia captain Raio Piiroja was sent off between the third and fourth goals for what looked to be a harsh second yellow card for a handball. Piiroja, Stepanov and Pareiko (after a booking for protesting the award of the penalty) all miss Tuesday night’s second leg so Estonia will be severely under strength defensively. Taavi Rähn is likely to come back into the defence, possibly with Ragnar Klavan moving from full back to centre back. Pavel Londak of FK Bodø/Glimt in Norway is likely to get the nod in goal.
The Irish were far from outstanding but showed their experience (this being their sixth play-off for a major tournament) and in the likes of Keane, McGeady and Walters had a cutting edge that Estonia would love to have.
Tomorrow night’s second leg may be something of a party for the Irish, but Estonia can learn a lot from the experience and they can take a lot from the campaign as a whole. Eesti Jalpall has press access to the game tomorrow night so you can follow my inane comments on the match at www.twitter.com/iammoribund if you’re interested.