The Estonian men's national football team lost 2-1 away to Austria on Monday in the opening game of their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign. It took a late Michael Gregoritsch to seal the three points for Austria, who were forced to come from behind after Rauno Sappinen had given Estonia a 25th minute lead.
Perhaps as expected, Austria were on top for most of the first half at the Raifeissen Arena in Linz. Fresh from a 4-1 win over Azerbaijan last Thursday, the home side were looking to continue their strong start to the qualifying campaign. Meanwhile, Estonia warmed up for the game with a narrow 1-0 friendly defeat against Hungary on Thursday and probably fancied their chances of coming away with at least a point.
The home side almost got off to a dream start in the third minute after an Estonian corner was cleared as far as the halfway line. Estonian 'keeper Karl Jakob Hein (Arsenal) ventured out of his goal to retrieved the loose ball and attempt to launch another attack. Unfortunately for Hein, Wolfsburg winger Patrick Wimmer was quick to react, blocking the Arsenal man's punt up field and then beating him to the rebound.
However, with Hein's empty net at his mercy, Wimmer snatched at the chance, firing a left foot shoot well wide of the mark. A real let off for the Estonians.
And it wouldn't be the last. With 16 minutes played, Vlasi Sinjavski's (Slovacko) clumsy trip in the box on SC Freiburg striker Michael Gregoritsch left the referee with no choice but to point to the spot. Sinjavski had been caught off balance by a swift Austrian attack and there were could be no protests from the Estonian side after he brought Gregoritsch tumbling to the ground with a trip from behind.
But Gregoritsch's joy was short lived as he watched his left foot strike come crashing back off the cross bar and, despite Hein fumbling the rebound, Estonia managed to scramble clear. It was starting to feel like one of those nights for the home side.
Then, on 25 minutes, Konstantin Vassiljev's (Flora Tallinn) freekick from just inside the Austrian half was headed across the penalty area by 20-year-old Tottenham Hotspur defender Maxim Paskotši and flicked on by Sergei Zenjov's (Flora Tallinn) into the path of Rauno Sappinen (Stal Mielec).
Sappinen, who had made some space for himself at the back post kept his composure to fire a right-foot volley past the helpless Heinz Lindner (Sion) in the Austrian goal. 1-0 to Estonia.
Sensing things were not going their way, Austria switched things up after the break, bringing on Real Madrid's David Alaba to take control of the midfield and push for an equalizer.
It came on 68 minutes, after Karl Jakob Hein parried a left foot strike from Stefan Posch (Bologna) straight into the path of Florian Kainz (FC Köln). Kainz, who had only been on the field for seven minutes gratefully accepted the gift, scoring his first goal for his country in 23 appearances.
Estonia continued to fight hard and for a while it looked like they would hold out for a respectable point.
However, just two minutes of normal time left on the clock, Christian Baumgartner's (Hoffenheim) chipped cross from the right was brought down by Michael Gregoritsch right on the penalty spot. Benefitting from two deflections, first off Paskotši then Karol Mets (St. Pauli), Gregoritsch's strike looped over the head of Hein and into the Estonian net. His redemption for that earlier miss now complete and three precious points on the board for Austria.
"We've come closer but of course we need to be stronger with the ball," said Estonian head coach Thomas Häberli after the match as he reflected on a week in which his side had suffered two narrow defeats against sides in Europe's top sixteen. "The next game will be different. We will have more of the ball," said Häberli.
Austria will be delighted with their start to the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign. Their victory on Monday along with Friday's 4-1 defeat of Azerbaijan puts them on top of Group F after the first two game. However, in a group that also contains Belgium and Sweden, there will certainly be sterner test to come.
Estonia will now be looking ahead to their next qualifying match on June 17 against Azerbaijan in Baku.
They then take on Belgium take on Belgium at the A. Le Coq Arena in Tallinn three days later.
Editor: Michael Cole