The Estonian men's national football team traveled to face North Macedonia in the UEFA Nations League on Sunday, falling 1:2 to their Group C opponent. Estonia will finish last in the group, qualifying for the relegation play-outs.
Ivan Trickovski gave the home team the lead in the 29th minute with a classy heel flick, but Rauno Sappinen was able to equalize in the 52nd, scoring on a terrific shot into the top corner. Vlatko Sotjanovski gave North Macedonia a 2:1 lead in the 68th minute, clinching the home team's promotion to League B of the Nations League.
Since the Estonian team finished last in their group, they will next face off against a relegation play-out opponent sometime in March, playing for the right to remain in the third-strongest level League C for next season.
Sappinen, who has scored four goals in this year's Nations League, said post-match: "The scoreboard does not lie. They scored one more than us. They deserved the victory from that point of view. We really wanted to get at least a draw there at the end."
Sappinen's precise shot, attached to the article as video, equalized the match but was not enough for more. "The opponent's centerbacks stumbled a bit, we were able to get the ball, [Mihkel] Ainsalu played it to me on a strike in the box and the old saying - if you don't shoot, you don't score - and it turned out well this time," Sappinen said.
Team manager Karel Voolaid said the Estonians had opportunities but the host team established their pace as winners of the group: "It was not coincidence. They made our lives very difficult in certain episodes and in the moments we needed to get back into the match, they did not let us. This shows their class and strength."
What did the Estonian national team miss in the match? "I think the game opened up at one point. We were chasing a possible winner and it perhaps looked like we got it going, but North Macedonia also needed the victory to fight for top position in the group. The match opened up and they were better and more decisive in the match today (on Sunday - ed.). They found the chances and crosses into the box, where minor details became key," the manager said.
Experts critical of Voolaid's substitutions
Estonian football players Rimo Hunt and Indrek Zelinski, part of ETV's coverage of the match, were extremely critical of team manager Karel Voolaid after the 1:2 defeat.
The decision to take out Sappinen mid-way through the second half baffled the experts: "I liked how the second half started up until the moment Sappinen was subbed out. An incomprehensible substitution - he did not seem tired, was working hard, created situations, scored a very beautiful goal. After that the rhythm was broken against us, we were not able to find our game after," Hunt said.
Zelinski, one of the most succesful players in Estonian national team history, said many questions came up during the match: "The substitutions especially. We discussed it during the match. So many questions come up just on these decisions. Not what is happening on the pitch, but for example the starting 11."
He continued: "The managerial staff must think what substitutions bring on and I do not see any kind of deep thinking! So when Voolaid was put in charge, I was waiting on who he would choose as assistant coaches."
Team manager Karel Voolaid's staff includes assistant coaches Mario Hansi, Aivar Anniste and Vladimir Vassiljev. "The assistant should not be comfortable to the manager, he must be a pain in the butt and someone who can see things the manager cannot. There must be internal opposition. As a bystander, I do not see any," Zelinski said.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste