The Estonian men's football team will close out the calendar year by defending the Baltic Cup in November, shortly before the World Cup finals in Qatar and the winter break in domestic fixtures. In addition to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, this year's competition will see Iceland participate for the first time.
The Estonian team will be aiming for a repeat of last year's tournament, which saw them take home the trophy for the first time since 1938, with a 2-1 victory over Latvia in the final.
After being re-introduced to the sporting calendar following re-independence, the Baltic Cup was held as an annual competition involving the Estonia, Latvian and Lithuanian men's national football teams between 1991 and 1998.
By 2008, the current biennial format had been firmly established, with Finland also participating as a guest in the 2012 and 2014 competitions.
Traditionally, the Baltic Cup takes place ahead of the World Cup or European Championship Finals, meaning the 2020 tournament was pushed back to June 2021, following the example of 'Euro 2020,' which was delayed due to coronavirus.
This year, with the 2022 World Cup set to kick off in Qatar on November 21 rather than the usual June, a choice had to be made about the Baltic Cup.
One option was to play the tournament as a series of unofficial non-FIFA recognized matches with one-day breaks between games. However, to ensure the games are officially recognized as FIFA internationals, the decision was made to involve a fourth country in this year's tournament, with Iceland, currently 63rd in the FIFA world rankings, invited to participate for the first time.
The presidents of all four participating football associations made the draw for the Baltic Cup while meeting at the UEFA Super Cup final between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt on August 10 in Helsinki.
The semi-finals will take place on November 16, with Estonia facing Latvia in Riga and Lithuania up against Iceland in Vilnius.
The winners of the two semi-finals will then battle it out for the Baltic Cup trophy on November 19 in Tallinn.
Before that, the two defeated semi-finalists will square off in the third-fourth place play off, which also takes place in Tallinn on the same day. That means that irrespective of their result in the semi-final, Estonia will definitely play their second match of the tournament in front of a home crowd.
Estonian men's national team coach Thomas Häberli, said his side will go into the tournament looking for a good result. "The Baltic Cup is important for the whole team and we will definitely try to defend the title this year," said Häberli. "It's also the last tournament of the year and so of course we want to go into the (winter) break on the back of a win," said Häberli.
The draw for the U-21 boys' Baltic Cup was also made in Helsinki this week, with Estonia set to face Lithuania at home on November 16, followed by Latvia away on November 18. In the final fixture of the three-game tournament, Lithuania will host Latvia on November 20.
Details about the exact venues and kick-off times for this year's Baltic Cup matches are still being finalized, with ticket information to be made available by the Estonian Football Association as soon as possible.
Editor: Michael Cole