The Estonian U-19 men's football team kicked off their European Championship qualifying campaign with a bang, defeating Italy 2-0 in Poland, with both goals coming in the dying minutes of the game.
Nikita Kondratski of Tallinna JK Legion gave Estonia the lead in the 90th minute, drilling in from the edge of the penalty area following a counter attack. With 93 minutes on the clock and the Italians pushing for an equalizer, Nõmme United's Egert Õrunapuu sealed the victory for Estonia, finishing off another breakaway move with the last kick of the game.
Estonia three points in the opening match of the selection tournament in Poland.
Italy appeared to dominate much of the game, creating 26 chances to Estonia's seven and also striking the post twice. However, Estonian captain Andreas Vaher was delighted with the result, and said it was more evenly matched on the pitch than the statistics suggested. "The first emotions are really great. We prepared really well for this match. This result shows that we have the character to face any team," said Vaher. "At the beginning, we had problems with the high press of our opponents, but as the game went on, our performance got better and you could see that the Italians were getting tired. We adapted well and, in the end, the counter-attacks brought us success," said Vaher.
Head coach Alo Bärengrub was also in high spirits after the game. "I'm really happy about the result and the boys, who deserved this win. I also told them, that to achieve a result like this you need a bit of luck, to defend well and to show great spirit. That's what I saw on the pitch today," said Bärengrub. "In the first half, Italy dominated the tempo and pushed us back. It's understandable that, against us, they wouldn't play in any other way. It's worth pointing out that they had a couple of good chances to score, but Ott Nõmm (Pärnu JK Vaprus) in goal saved us from the worst. In the second half, the substitutes brought some freshness to the game and we created chances, which we managed to convert thanks to perfect transitions and quick attacks," Bärengrub said.
The win over Italy puts the Estonian team in joint first place in their qualifying group, with three points, after the opening round of games. Estonia's group also contains hosts Poland and Bosnia and Herzegovina, who also met on Wednesday, with Poland winning 2-0.
The top two sides in the group will qualify automatically for the Elite round, with an additional place available for the strongest third-placed team from amongst the groups. The 28 teams in the Elite round will then play a mini-tournament in the spring, with the seven best sides reaching next summer's finals in Malta.
Estonia's next match in the tournament is against Poland on Saturday, September 24 at 7 p.m. Estonian time. In their final group game, the Estonian team face Bosnia and Herzegovina, with kick off at 3 p.m. Estonian time on September 27.
"Our target all along has been to qualify from the sub-group," said Estonian captain Andreas Vaher. "For me personally, it's also important to keep clean sheets. All that is still possible," said the midfielder.
Head coach Bärengrub, was also looking ahead to the upcoming fixtures. "Today we can enjoy the victory, but then we need to think about a proper recovery and focus on the match-winning moments that could bring us success against Poland," said Bärengrub.
Editor: Michael Cole