Estonian boss hoping for some crumbs of comfort
THIS was like holding a press conference on death row, the afternoon before the execution.
Tarmo Ruutli cut a dignified, if resigned, figure in Stillorgan yesterday. Fresh from a run around the grounds of the Estonian team hotel in south Dublin, the manager faced the media in full knowledge that the firing squad was waiting to put his team out of their misery.
His answers were considered and slowly delivered. Asked what his expectations are tonight, the former midfielder paused for the best part of 30 seconds before answering.
It seems like it has been a long 72 hours since the Estonian dream turned into a nightmare in Tallinn.
When they reflect on their campaign as a whole, Estonia will know that progress has been made, but Friday night, it seems, will be hard to forget.
"You have to take it how it is," he sighed when asked if he expected to be in this position. "For us, there is nothing guaranteed and we started our qualifying games to see what happened.
"We are not at the level where success is guaranteed or have such a high-class team, but we can have some good games. We can then lose sometimes to weaker teams.
"That is our level and we have to be happy that we achieved this result. We didn't do anything wrong as a team, but some personal mistakes cost us. The plan will be almost the same tonight.
"We will try to be ready and take our experience from the last game and try and show that we deserved our place in the play-off."
With both his centre-halves and his goalkeeper suspended, Ruutli will be forced into making changes.
He wasn't willing to divulge his team yesterday, but it is expected that Taavi Rahn and Ragnar Klavan will come into the defence and Pavel Londak will start in goal.
New York Red Bulls attacking midfielder Joel Lindpere, who came out of international retirement for the play-offs, is set to start.
So what are the Estonian hopes for the second leg?
"This is not an easy game," Ruuti said. "Of course it is two games in a row and the first result was really bad. So from our side you can say that maybe, maybe, maybe.
"The Irish team deserved it more to go to the finals but anyway a game is a game and we start again at 0-0 and we will try show interesting football. We will try and score and create more possibilities than we did in the home game. You treat it as a new day and a new game."
You sense the old game might linger on their minds for some time yet.
Estonia (probable) -- Londak (Bobo Glimt); Jaager (Aalesunds), Rahan (Tianjin Songjiang), Klavan (AZ Alkmaar), Kruglov (Rostov); Teniste (Sogndal), Vunk (Famagusta), Vassiljev (Amkar Perm), Lindpere (New York Red Bulls); Saag (Silkborg), Voskoboinikov (Himki).