ON ICE: Despite the winter temperatures, Uruguayan coach Oscar Tabarez didn’t blame the weather for his team’s loss to Estonia.
TALLINN - Estonia has shocked last year’s World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay, defeating them 2-0 in an international football friendly on Friday evening. Sitting 75 places behind the seventh-ranked Uruguayans in the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) world rankings, few gave the plucky Estonians any chance of competing with the South Americans, and even less of defeating them.
Estonia reportedly paid 60,000 euros to lure Uruguay to a chilly Tallinn for the friendly, but for all concerned it was money very well spent as the hosts scored two goals in a five minute flurry in the second half to seal the win.
Midfielder and national team regular Konstantin Vassiljev opened the scoring for the hosts in the 62nd minute. In the 67th he was in action once more, striking an accurate corner kick that was finished off by Vjatsheslav Zahovaiko to leave their much more fancied opponents reeling.
It was a particularly poignant win for Estonian Captain Raio Piiroja, with the game marking his hundredth appearance for the national team.
Despite the temperatures remaining below zero for the duration of the game and snow flurries crossing over the ground, Uruguayan coach Oscar Tabarez told Agence France Presse (AFP) that they could not blame the conditions for their loss. “The conditions were the same for both teams, so we can’t make excuses. The Estonians used their chances better.” A large percentage of the Uruguayan players who participated in the match play their club football in Europe, so would have encountered similar conditions before.
Estonia is quickly proving to be a side much stronger than their world ranking would otherwise suggest. Recently, they beat Serbia 2-1 on the Serb’s own turf in a Euro 2012 qualifying game and put on a respectable show by only losing 1-0 to Brazil back in 2009.
When asked what has been done to achieve the good string of results of late, Estonian football media relations officer Mihkel Uiboleht told TBT that, “nothing has changed suddenly. It is a reflection of the hard work that has been put in over the past 15 years. Participation numbers [in Estonian football] have tripled in that time and it is the same with the number of coaches and referees. In general, more attention is also being paid to stadiums and pitches.”
He also believes it is partly to do with the opportunities that Estonian players are now receiving to play in some of the world’s best leagues. “We now have 35 players playing abroad in 10 different countries and they are not just making up numbers in squads, but receiving regular game time. Two years ago it was only a handful of players.”
Uiboleht does not stop there at pointing out the contributing factors, saying that a good mixture of young and older, more experienced players, with the same going for the coaching staff, is another important factor.
With confidence amongst Estonian football fans at an all time high, they are beginning to eye qualification for Euro 2012 as a realistic goal, but the players and staff, including Uiboleht, are keeping their feet on the ground. “We are in a tough [qualifying] group and we need to take it match by match. Even games against the Faroe Islands, we cannot take for granted. We will never be the favorites. We still need to start matches defensively and then we have to be creative and make the most of the opportunities we get. We can never underestimate opponents, especially as we are Estonia.”
Friday night’s game was used as a warm-up before they hosted Serbia in their latest group C Euro 2012 qualifying match on Monday.