A slightly under-strength Estonia lost its home world cup qualifying encounter with Wales 1:0 on Monday night, and with it any, however remote, mathematical chance of qualification to Qatar in 2022, thanks to a scrappy Kieffer Moore goal early on in the game.
Coming into the game after a home win against Belarus on Friday night boosted Estonia's Group E points tally to four, behind the Czech Republic and Wales in second and third places on eight points, Estonia needed to keep winning and for the Czech Republic and Wales – who drew 2:2 in Prague on Friday – to keep losing to have any chance whatsoever of making the group second place, and with it the playoffs.
Since Monday's encounter was with one of the two teams in the hunt, i.e. Wales, the game was in effect a six-pointer, while the visitors had only managed a 0-0 draw a month ago in Cardiff. Wales were also minus Gareth Bale, though Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey, absent in September's clash, was back in the line-up and captaining.
Estonia was also missing a key player, Konstantin Vassiljev, at the last minute, after he picked up a warm-up injury. The 37-year-old was replaced by midfielder Markus Poom, son of former Estonian keeper Mart. Midfielder Vladislav Kreida and forward Henri Anier were also missing due to match bans, while striker Rauno Sappinen, and midfielders Martin Miller and Michael Lilander were out with injury.
Scrappy goal off a corner ball
In the event, Wales scored the game's only goal at the A. Le Coq Arena (see video below). A corner from the left was nearly headed in by Wales defender Chris Mepham, and while Estonian defenders kept it away from the goal, they failed to clear, as Aaron Ramsey headed the recalcitrant ball down on to, but not into, the hands of keeper Karl Jakob Hein (Arsenal), who palmed it into the bath of striker Kieffer Moore for an easy tap-in.
Attacker Sergei Zenjov got a chance in the first half after getting the better of Wales keeper Danny Ward in intercepting a pass, but Wales' defenders tracked back to the goal line in time to fend off disaster.
Estonia had a couple of chances in the second half, most notably by midfielder Vlasi Sinjavski from the left, but a weak strike went straight into the arms of Ward, and while the home team kept the visitors under pressure through to full-time, it was to no avail.
Belgium, who came away with a memorable 5:2 victory in Tallinn in early September, are clear leaders of Group E with 16 points, with Wales and the Czech Republic both on 11 points. Wales have a game in hand and so may look like favorites for the play-offs, though one of the two outstanding games – the final encounter of regular qualifying – is at home to Belgium.
The Czech Republic's sole remaining match is in fact against Estonia, in Prague on November 16.
With four points, Estonia has no chance of doing anything now other than avoiding the wooden spoon prize, which if things stay as they are will go to Belarus, propping up Group E on three points.
The World Cup Finals will be held in Qatar, November-December 2022.
Monday's game's one-and-only goal is in the video clip below.
Editor: Andrew Whyte