The Estonian men's national football team gathered on Monday in preparation for three upcoming matches, two of which are qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. A positive coronavirus test however has forced changes in the team, including sending team manager Thomas Häberli home to isolate.
National team members and staff were tested on Saturday and Sunday to make sure there are no infections among the team for the international break. All tests turned out negative and the team gathered on Monday, when they went through mandatory testing for Wednesday's match against the Czech Republic. One of the tests came out positive.
Estonian Football association (EJL) spokesperson Mihkel Uiboleht said it was no longer possible to postpone the match, which was already moved to neutral ground in Poland as domestic coronavirus restrictions and UEFA rules meant the game could not go ahead at the A. Le Coq Arena in Tallinn.
"It was not possible to postpone the match. There were two options - to play or not and the latter was not an option, because the international football calendar is set up with specific match dates when clubs must release players. There are no more available dates this season," Uiboleht told ERR.
He said cancelling the match against the Czech Republic would have meant cancelling the two upcoming matches against Belarus and Sweden as well. He added that UEFA sanctions would have also come into play. "FIFA and UEFA understand that the coronavirus causes some unexpectable and difficult situations, but if there is any possibility, a team needs to be put out and that we did in the late night and early morning hours," Uiboleht noted.
As players and staff members were deemed close contacts of the infected player, they must now remain in isolation for ten days. The isolation does not apply to those who have had COVID-19 earlier however. Still, the situation led to multiple changes in the team's line-up with ten new players now called up.
The Estonian national team will face the Czech Republic in Poland at 9.45 p.m. on Wednesday. The match will be broadcast on ETV2 and ERR's sports portal. The team will then play Belarus on Saturday and end the international break with a friendly against Sweden next Wednesday.
New manager: I made sure it was not the first of April
Among those isolating at home is also team manager Thomas Häberli, who took over the team at the start of the year. Fortunately, previous manager and all-time player Martin Reim was prepared to take over for the week.
"Aivar [Pohlak, president of EJL] called around 10 p.m. I asked him to repeat his first two sentences to make sure it was not April 1," Reim said at a press conference on Tuesday. "I asked him if I could call back in ten minutes. It ended with me going to the hotel at 1 a.m. and giving a test. The first meetings are done and I know the big picture."
Reim, who resigned as manager in 2019, said the team will follow Häberli's tactics for the upcoming matches. "Of course, the current trainers have done all the preparations and gameplans. With a different line-up though. We will go off what Thomas [Häberli] has drawn up with his managers," Reim said.
Team captain: I met some of the new guys for the first time
While athletes tend to downplay any similar situations traditionally, national team captain Konstantin Vassiljev told ERR that such changes will certainly change things. "I can't say this will not affect the team. Managers, players and staff will stay here. It is not a regular situation. We will try to minimize the effect over the next 1,5 days and try to be as ready as we can for the match," the captain said.
He added that the situation opens windows for young players to show themselves, but there are still more familiar faces among the line-up. "I know some players better, some I will meet for the first time. There are more experienced players, such as Sander Puri, Andre Frolov and Ilja Antonov. It is not like there are completely random guys here," Vassiljev noted.
The full updated team line-up is as follows:
- Mihkel Aksalu (Paide Linnameeskond), 36
- Karl Andre Vallner (Tallinn FCI Levadia), 23
- Karl Johan Pechter (Tartu JK Tammeka), 25
- Ilja Antonov (Tallinna FCI Levadia), 28
- Michael Lilander (Tallinna FC Flora), 23
- Marek Kaljumäe (Pärnu JK Vaprus), 30
- Henrik Pürg (Tallinn FC Flora), 24
- Magnus Villota (Pärnu JK Vaprus), 23
- Maksim Paskotši (Tottenham Hotspur), 18
- Märten Subka (Tallinna FC Flora), 18
- Martin Kase (Paide Linnameeskond), 27
Midfield and attack
- Konstantin Vassiljev (Tallinn FC Flora), 36
- Sander Puri (Tallinna JK Legion), 32
- Henri Anier (Paide Linnameeskond), 30
- Rauno Sappinen (Tallinn FC Flora), 25
- Rauno Alliku (Tallinn FC Flora), 31
- Mark Oliver Roosnupp (Tallinna FCI Levadia), 23
- Andre Frolov (Paide Linnameeskond), 32
- Markus Poom (Tallinn FC Flora), 22
- Pavel Dõmov (Tallinna JK Legion), 27
- Robert Kirss (Tallinna FCI Levadia), 26
- Bogdan Vaštšuk (Tallinna FCI Levadia), 25
- Karl Rudolf Õigus (Tallinna FCI Levadia), 22
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste