Estonia-Ireland: Clash of the Bantamweight Titans
Never in days of old, when I had the “enormous fortune” to be stuck with football yobs in the subways of Munich (“wir sind die blöde Idioten” or “we are the stupid Idiots” echoing around innocent passers-by as their rallying cry), did I think I’d ever venture to write a piece about soccer (European football), but as Butch Cassidy once declared, “there are no rules in a knife fight”. There is always a first time for everything. A good Estonian has gotta do what he has gotta do.
Estonia (population 1.3 million) faces Republic of Ireland (population 4.5 million) in a two-game play-off during the first half of November. Round 1 to transpire this Friday – Nov. 11 – while the second match will be played Tuesday, Nov. 15 in Dublin.
Responding preemptively to nitpickers, “bantamweight” is of course boxing nomenclature, but you get my drift.
What’s at stake is a place at next summer’s UEFA European Football Championship – commonly referred to as Euro 2012 or the Euro Cup. The Irish soccer team arrives in Tallinn tonight (Wednesday), with a considerable number of their countrymen in tow. This is a considerably bigger deal for Eesti than your average sports event!
Friday kickoff (with time conversions for friends abroad)
– Tallinn time 21:35 (9:35 p.m.)
– London and Dublin time 19:35 (7:35 p.m.)
– New York and Toronto: 2:35 p.m.
– Los Angeles: 11:35 a.m.
Results should be known about two hours later.
Lindpere Jets in to Lend a Hand
Reinforcements have arrived in Tallinn in the person of Joel Lindpere, whose day job is with the NY Red Bulls. This might be pretty strong medicine! During the 2011 season with the Red Bulls, Lindpere set the single-season record for games played (34) and minutes (3,048), scoring seven goals and adding seven assists. Through two seasons in New York, Lindpere has a total of 10 goals. Irish Goalkeeper Shay Given concedes: “this is the strongest Estonian team ever.”
All three Irish goalkeepers are reported to be experiencing injury problems, which might handicap the guest team. Still, Estonian soccer blogger Vaapo Vaher worries: “What will happen to the Estonian psyche and national pride if we take a drubbing? Austerlitz is possible, but then so is Waterloo”.
What’s at Stake in more Detail
Irish Assistant Manager and local hero Marco Tardelli has told Ireland’s players they could be preparing for the most important games of their lives. Both personal aspirations and “God and country” are involved. Which side gets to represent their nation next year? Which one will get to be noticed in the Polish and Ukrainian venues during the European Cup showdown? Tardelli: “It’s important to qualify because the players need a boost as well in terms of new contracts and visibility. For some players, maybe it is the last chance to be seen around the world. …for me, it was very important because I am very close to my country, and I think these players are very close to their country”. Tardelli notes how emotional he felt when he stood on the pitch during the national anthem, and figures that goes for his comrades in arms as well.
If football is metaphor and also a substitute for mayhem in earnest, this upcoming faceoff takes on big proportions for Estonian sports history, holding the promise of either “the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat”, as ABC’s Wide World of Sports used to so aptly put it.
Here you have it: two countries that have bucked a lot of adversity in their histories. Countries at opposite ends of the periphery of Europe, still struggling to find their place in the sun, and not just in sports. Not a match of heavyweight Titans, but of determined small warriors, both hoping for some good news, and wanting a diversion from the economic doldrums than plague the Continent, its outlying territories, and a lot of other places.
Estonia’s skiing reputation is in tatters after two-time Olympics winner Andrus Veerpalu tested positive for doping. The movers and shakers in Estonian skiing have largely come and gone. To borrow a German catchphrase, the decathlon too tends to be “cold coffee” for Estonia, now that Erki Nool is in retirement. On the other hand, tennis is up and coming. Kaia Kanepi has recently been on a roll, thanks in part to a new coach, may have 3-4 years of longevity left in her, and definitely bears watching.
The old joke ran that a masochist’s dream was a season ticket to Estonia’s soccer matches, but that has changed somewhat. Without wanting to raise hopes too high (both Kanepi and the Estonian football team have struggled with psychological composure in the past, but Kanepi in particular has improved considerably!), here we have it in the form of Estonia and Ireland: the immovable pint-sized object meets the irresistible pint-sized force. Which one will be which we don’t know yet. Depends on who gets the upper hand on Friday in offense, really.
Konstantin Vassiljev and Lindpere will be the guys to watch on the Estonian side.
Now is the time for all good Estonians to at least temporarily drop the Nordic cool composure and get behind their team!