Saturday 24 February 2018

Estonian boss Ruutli wary of wily ‘old fox’ Trapattoni

Cathal Dervan

Giovanni Trapattoni will go head-to-head tonight with a man who dreams of having his job and working with the likes of Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and the local favourite around these parts -- Aiden McGeady.

The European Championship play-off experience is so new to Estonian coach Tarmo Ruutli that he is struggling to understand the meaning of the word underdog and even admits to having dreams about Ireland, rather than the nightmares you'd expect.

Trap, yet to agree a new deal with the FAI, is unlikely to see Ruutli as much of a threat in the employment stakes. In any case, the Estonian already has a contract extension with his own FA signed, sealed and delivered on the back of reaching the Euro play-offs for the first time.

So, maybe we should put Ruutli's stated admiration for the Irish at yesterday's pre-match conference down to innocence and naivety, two traits his team can't afford to display in the sold-out A Le Coq Arena this evening.

"Sometimes when I look at the videos of Ireland this week, I dream that this is my team, that I can lead them," said Ruutli yesterday at his final public appearance ahead of the biggest game in his country's history.

"They have quality players, the team is very good. I can't say I was satisfied when we drew them. We will play against a very strong Ireland team with an experienced manager, so we are the outsiders for this game.

"In this match, if you ask simply what chance we have, then I will tell you that our chances are 50-50 at the moment. We have tasted success already in this competition, so we know what it means.

"And because we play at home on Friday night, our chance for this game is 50-50. A good result for us would be to win 2-0 at home and draw away, but this is new for us. It is the first time for us and we have no experience of this."

Ruutli's high regard for the Irish isn't confined to the players who will test his team tonight. He knows all about the man who will conduct the Ireland performance in the first leg of tonight's Euro 2012 play-off.

"Trapattoni is, of course, a great manager, very experienced," said his Estonian counterpart. "We can say that he is an old fox and I will not be too surprised if he finds some extra steps for tomorrow."

It has taken Estonian football 20 years to find their feet on the international stage -- the country was part of the USSR from World War II until 1991 -- so their success is far from overnight, as Ruutli outlined yesterday.

"This has been an ongoing job. We have not suddenly reached the top. For more than 10 years now, we have been working hard in Estonian football," he explained.

"Our players have started to move abroad and play in better teams and better leagues and it is making a difference. We saw that in the qualifiers when we had some luck as well as some success. We have worked for this."

Midfielder Martin Vunk, who scored against Northern Ireland in a 3-1 win here in September, is one of the new breed of Estonian players who have emerged on the back of the hard work referred to by Ruutli.

Vunk explained: "The big difference for us now is experience. We have played together for some years and we have grown stronger with every game.

"We are gaining confidence from our results and we feel better with every game. We can win now against big teams away from home as well as here in Tallinn.

"We know Ireland are a good team in defence, well organised and with strikers and wingers who are dangerous. But this is an okay draw for us."

Vunk, Ruutli and Estonia will take heart from neighbours Latvia ahead of their Euro examination tonight.

"Latvia's success in getting to Portugal in 2004 via the play-offs is one of the things we have been thinking about. They reached the European finals so why not Estonia?" asked Ruutli.

The Estonian boss confirmed yesterday that he will spring Red Bulls striker Joel Lindpere from the bench after his return from a two-year self-imposed exile -- a la Stephen Ireland.

Lindpere has maintained a low profile since joining up with the squad again on Monday, but his new nickname hints that his manager is ready to use the attacking midfielder again.

"We have a new name for him since he returned, we are calling him the Joker now," revealed Ruutli.

Irish Independent

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