Estonia against its San Marino football ghosts
The Estonian FA slogan to bring people to the stadium on Sunday is ‘let’s fix the mistakes.’ It obviously refers to the embarrassing goalless draw earned in San Marino over 6 months ago when the tiny enclave in the Italian territory achieved their first point ever at a major competition’s qualifier.
International headlines were spent and the Estonian press had serious difficulties in covering the embarrassment.
Few days earlier in November, Estonia managed a 1-0 win against Norway. In the same fashion, the ‘Sinisärgid’ are coming from an historical win in Turku against Finland (it’s the second ever since regained independence, with the last dating back to 2010 in Tallinn).
Alright, it was a friendly game and everyone knows that, however winning helps winning, they say. With this in mind, the Estonian squad is highly focused in order to make everyone forget about what happened at Serravalle Stadium back in Autumn.
Magnus Pehrsson fielded an XI packed with Premium Liiga players (9), a sign that he is a stable follower of the domestic football and takes into account the best performers surfacing during the season.
In the game against Finland, he gave a rest to Konstantin Vassiljev who was confident to be ready for San Marino after a minor injury picked up with his club (Piast Gliwice, POL). The main experiment (already seen at Nõmme Kalju) was to place Ken Kallaste alongside Ragnar Klavan as central defender. Considering it worked well, we’re likely to see it again in A.LeCoq Arena, hinted Pehrsson in Finland’s post-match interviews. The Estonian camp has been shaken by transfer rumours having Everton FC linked with Klavan. The Estonian captain admitted he might be in someone’s shopping list, however did not confirm the rumours.
One thing is certain, Mihkel Aksalu will wear the gloves this time. The succession is in place as acknowledged by Sergei Pareiko himself. "The coach told me Mihkel will go in goal on Sunday," said the 38-year-old shot-stopper to ERR Sport. "According to his words, there is a generation change in order," he added in a bitter and resigned tone. Ats Purje’s brace was a breath of fresh air considering that, last time Estonia scored two goals in a game, it was against Tajikistan one year ago (June 7, 2-1). The Kalju’s player is likely to be given another nod to start as a front striker. The midfield pack might see the return of Karol Mets in front of the defense.
San Marino’s camp
The visitors’ coach, Pierangelo Manzaroli, has been facing an authentic emergency as 8 internationals will not travel to Tallinn due to injuries. The most-hit department is the defense with the coach planning to place full-back Cristian Brolli as central defender. The very same Brolli has been blighted by an adductors strain requiring additional care from the physio. The impression is that Manzaroli will decide on the very last minute whether to field Brolli too or not.
With reduced resources in defence, the very likely set-up will be 5-4-1, in order to give more protection to the goal.
The big absentee of the game will be all-time top scorer, Andy Selva (8 goals in 69 games) since he was sidelined for disciplinary reasons. A conflict between San Marino international and the FSGC (the San Marino FA) surfaced few months ago when the players decided to found their own union and presented several requests to the football authority, including a better treatment for the away games. The lack of dialogue brought the players to menace a strike which was later on called off. Andy Selva acted as a spokesperson as the most representative player from Mount Titano and the FSGC was not pleased by the Captain’s behaviour although most of the requests sounded legitimate and aimed at improving San Marino’s footballing conditions.
‘I think we are exchanging roles now,’ said Manzaroli to local media in San Marino, reasonably worried about his squad’s condition ‘Estonia are now in full form considering that their top-flight players have reached that in the past weeks.’ The club season just ended in San Marino and all the players bear the signs of that, both mentally and physically. Estonia this time might be a big hurdle to overcome.
What result shall we expect
Let’s face it, for Estonia only one result matters: winning.
If dreams of making it to the play-offs shall be forgotten, pride in front of the home fans need to be restored. The goals’ drought (three goals scored in 8 official games since last June!) needs also to come to an end. San Marino are rated among the lowest in the FIFA ranking and no further excuses will be acceptable if Pehrsson&Co. will not leave Lilleküla with at least three goals.
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