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Proud Estonians dreaming of victory

FOR decades, they could only dream of having a nation of their own.

Now, 20 years after they secured their independence from the rule of Moscow, the Estonians have a dream.

The people from this proud Baltic state were very happy to leave the tyranny of the USSR in 1991, but Estonians will be more than happy to head back to one of their former fellow prisoner states in the Soviet Union, Ukraine, next summer.

In Soviet times, Estonia was seen as a place to make some money for the Soviet state, as legions of Finns made the short trip across the Baltic, when cheap booze and hookers were the attractions in the 1970s and 1980s.

Now, the Estonians have a chance to make a stand on the football field.

"Of course it would be a great experience to qualify and it would mean a world to us, it's our dream," Estonia's key player, Konstantin Vassilijev, told the Herald in Tallinn.

"It would give a big push to develop our football even more comprehensively which, of course, helps us to educate (the) next football generations even better. But, at the moment it's only a dream. Our work isn't done yet, we still have a chance to play two good games and achieve something really special."

The presence of Vassilijev in the Estonian squad is both a relic of history and a sign of the times. He's an ethnic Russian, a Russian speaker who plays his club football in Russia but a hero to Estonia.

It wasn't always this way. Like all of the Baltic states, Estonia was forced to endure a process of Russification, where Moscow imposed a form of plantation in the Baltics as they sent Russians to places like Estonia to dilute the population of natives and dampen any feelings of nationalism.

That presence was deeply resented and the Estonians got their revenge, with strict laws on citizenship just after independence which made clear that ethnic Russians were not welcome.

Imagine every person in Ireland having to pass a strict exam in the Irish language before they could get an Irish passport and you get an idea.

This process has gone now and Russian speakers like Vassilijev are not only welcome, they're acclaimed.

"Irish football has had longer time to develop, you know your strengths and weaknesses better and know how to use them to get the result ... but Ireland is the favourite," he added.