Thursday 25 May 2017

Everyone's eyes smiling as Estonians delighted with draw

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

IRISH eyes were smiling after yesterday's play-off draw in Krakow -- but the Estonians were also in pretty good form.

Richard Dunne (pictured) suggested on Tuesday evening that Ireland were the seeded team that the quartet on the other side of the draw would have wanted. He was right.

The reaction from Estonian football circles was positive. Both coach Tarmo Rüütli and the president of the Estonian FA, Aivar Pohlak, voiced their satisfaction.

"I'm pleased to get Ireland," said Pohlak. "That's what I wanted."

Rüütli was more diplomatic when speaking to his own media. "I had no preferences," said the 57-year-old. "But Ireland is a good match. The good thing from now is that we have a sense of direction."

However, in discussion with UEFA's website, he conceded that recent experience against Northern Ireland was a major factor.

The Estonians secured back-to- back victories over the North, which eventually proved decisive in their pool, although they needed a favour from Slovenia -- who beat Serbia 1-0 on Tuesday -- to grab the runners-up berth.

"I don't think the Republic of Ireland were the easiest of our potential opponents," said Ruutli.

"All the teams at this stage are strong and they proved it during the group stage. However, I won't deny the fact that we wanted to face Ireland more than the others.

"Maybe the experience of our victories against Northern Ireland will help us.

"Both teams have the same British style of football. Everybody has a chance, there's no doubt about it."

One of his assistants, Janno Kivisild, was slightly more bullish in his tone. "Ireland was the best choice for Estonia," he said, pointing out that his nation have improved considerably since they last met in the World Cup 2002 qualifiers.

"Yes, they are a great team," he told local media.

"And we have played them twice before and lost on both occasions. But we are a better team now. We have really improved."

Estonia are looking to sample a major tournament for the first time and they believe that qualification would greatly improve the standing of the game in a country where it is down the list of priorities.

The proximity to Poland and Ukraine is also a significant incentive. The Ukrainians visited Tallinn on Tuesday night and came away with a 2-0 friendly win.

Irish Independent

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