TALLINN - In what has been one of the most anticipated football matches of the year, old rivals Estonia and Russia will meet in Tallinn's A. le Coq Arena on March 24 to play their Euro 2008 Group E qualifier. Around 10,000 fans and 200 journalists are expected to attend the game, including an estimated 900 Russians who will be arriving from St. Petersburg and Moscow by train, bus, and chartered plane. Other fans can be expected to fill the country's bars and taverns to watch the televised game, which kicks off at 8:30 p.m.
Estonia have so far lost all three of their group's qualifier matches, including their last game against Russia in St. Petersburg in October, which ended in a 2 - 0 defeat.
Mihkel Uiboleht, the Estonian Football Association's press secretary, said that for this game the team is concerned that many of their back-up players are currently out with injuries.
"We have to work this week to tackle that problem and how to find the best option for Russia," he said.
The team has been training near Amsterdam to get the feel of the natural grass condition's they'll be playing under during the match.
Despite the injury concerns and Estonia's past performance, Uiboleht was upbeat about the national team's chances in the Saturday match. He said they have a good track record of home field wins against Russia, particularly those played in March. Under those conditions, he says, "We've never lost and they've never won."
The two winners in each group go on to play in the 2008 UEFA European Championships, which will be held jointly in Austria and Switzerland. Apart from Russia, Estonia's group includes England, Croatia, Israel, Andorra and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macendonia.
In a political aside, Franek Persidski, press secretary of the Estonian embassy in Moscow, told Interfax on March 20 that visiting Russian football fans who violate public order in Tallinn during the game would be banned from entering any European Union member state.
"This is a warning to keep Russian football fans informed. Should they violate public order, they will be banned from entering not only Estonia but all other EU member states as well," he said, without specifying how long such a ban would last.