Hoops fans to outnumber locals but Flora aiming to ruin the party
FLORA TALLINN manager Martin Reim is confident that Shamrock Rovers will face a different footballing proposition from the first leg in Estonia this evening. But an intimidating atmosphere? Reim isn't so sure.
Estonian football attendances actually lag well behind modest League of Ireland figures. Local officials in the Baltic nation fear that Flora Tallinn fans could be outnumbered by visiting Shamrock Rovers supporters this evening. Around 500 followers of the Tallaght-based club are estimated to have made the journey.
Despite lining out in the tidy, 10,000-capacity national stadium, the Meistriliiga champions rarely attract more than a couple of hundred supporters to their games. Tallinn has a population of 400,000 people, but going to watch local football is down the list of priorities.
Reim, Estonia's most capped player with 157 appearances, is obviously used to it. He didn't seem optimistic when asked how many locals would turn out. "In our league, there's not too many spectators," he said. "We hope tomorrow that more will come."
Like any small team, they could do with the boost of jousting with a team like FC Copenhagen, a tie which would command some interest given the proximity to Scandinavia.
Reim was spotted in animated discussion on the pitch at Tallaght last week with Mart Poom, the former Derby goalkeeper who is now a sporting director with Flora. He was floating around the club yesterday, with all parties conscious of the importance of qualification.
Reim accepts that his team's showing in Dublin was substandard.
"I was very unhappy with how we played," he said. "We kicked the ball away too easily and didn't try to play the game. We will have to be better. We will have to have confidence."
His assessment of Shamrock Rovers fell in line with all of the traditional cliches offered to Irish teams in the European sphere.
"It's a typical British-style team," he said. "It's more aggressive, there's more fighting. Maybe not so much, ball passing, running and dribbling.
"They have a very good spirit and maybe for us -- although it was not unexpected because we knew they would play like this -- in Estonia it's not aggressive like this. We need to adapt and be ready for that."
Certainly, if Flora are to have any chance, they must improve a ton from their Dublin showing.
Reim was keeping his cards close to his chest on whether he will play with a second striker, or match the hybrid 4-5-1/4-3-3 that Rovers are set to employ. Highly regarded Norwegian Geir Andre Herrem was only introduced at half-time last week, but could start, although he is carrying a slight knock.
Still, while the heat will present a challenge, the Hoops can be encouraged by decent Irish results in Estonia in the past decade.
A Graham Gartland header gave Drogheda a win over Levadia Tallinn to secure their Champions League progression back in 2008, while Bohemians were the better side against the same opposition in a 0-0 draw in 2004, only to lose the home leg in Dublin, a reverse that cost Stephen Kenny his job.
Three years earlier, Bohs got the scoreless draw they needed against a previous incarnation of Levadia to advance. An identical outcome would do for Shamrock Rovers.