TALLINN - The 2004 Estonian soccer season opened last week, with the same old favorite - Tallinn's FC Flora - expected to dominate.
The club has the stongest lineup and deepest financial resources and has won the last three soccer seasons (not to mention the last seven out of 10). Not surprisingly, its players make up the core of the national soccer team.
The season's opening game between FC Flora and Tulevik Viljandi, held at the auxiliary field of the A.LeCoq Arena stadium on March 6, ended 0:0, though Flora could consider itself the losing participant. The club's main goalkeeper, Martin Kaalma, received a knee injury that will be diagnosed later this week, and defender Teet Allas suffered a ligament rupture.
According to the team's doctor, Gunnar Mannik, Allas could be back in the lineup in about one month.
Arno Pijpers, head coach of Flora and the Estonian national soccer team, said his club would try to forget this match and try to "start the season once again."
For Tulevik, the point it earned in the draw was its first in three years in a game against Flora.
Currently the Estonian Premiere League lists eight teams: FC Flora Tallinn, Tulevik Viljandi, FC TVMK Tallinn, FC Levadia Tallinn, Trans Narva, FC Valga, FC Lootus Alutaguse and Merkuur Tartu.
Tartu's Merkuur is back to the Premiere League after 10 years of playing in the First League.
Although TVMK Tal-linn, known for feisty goalkeeper Sergei Usoltsev, finished second last year, analysts have predicted that Tulevik Viljandi could become Flora's major competitor.
Tulevik, which finished fifth last year, has recently moved its headquarters and the training center to Tallinn. This is a temporary measure to improve the training options for the club's A-team.
Regarding the international schedule for 2004, the national team will host Northern Ireland on March 31, Albania on April 28 and Denmark on May 30. Then, on June 6, Estonia will meet the Czech Republic.
In autumn the team will begin World Cup qualification matches, where Estonia ended up in a group alongside Liechtenstein, Luxem-bourg, Portugal, Latvia and Russia.