Saturday 16 December 2017

Things you didn't know about Estonia

1 Estonia has a population of just 1.3 million; the capital city, Tallinn, has approximately 430,000 inhabitants. The Baltic nation regained independence in 1991 and is regarded as one of the most advanced ex-Soviet states.

2 Football is poorly supported in Estonia. The local league rarely attracts crowds in excess of 1,000 spectators. It is ranked well below the League of Ireland in European competition. However, the country has enjoyed Olympic success, with athletics and wrestling extremely popular.

3 Estonia is traditionally kind to Irish teams. Four League of Ireland clubs have visited for European ties in the past decade and all managed to come away with a clean sheet. Bohemians (2001 and '04) drew 0-0, Drogheda picked up a 1-0 win in '08 to secure Champions League progression and a scoreless draw for Shamrock Rovers in July of this year was worth €500,000 and kick-started their European adventure.

4 Only a handful of the Estonian national team play their club football at home. The rest are spread overseas, with Middles- brough's Tarmo Kink the only English-based performer. Three play in Russia, while other locations include Norway, Ukraine, Denmark, Cyrpus, Hungary, Holland and Azerbaijan.

5 The national team play their games at the 10,300-capacity A La Coq Arena (below) , which is also the home of Flora Tallinn -- the side Shamrock Rovers knocked out of this season's Champions League. In this campaign, the biggest home crowd was 8,660 for the visit of Northern Ireland; 1,400 tickets will be available for travelling Irish supporters.

6 Estonian coach Tarmo Rüütli had a long playing career, but the 57-year-old never lined out for his country because they only gained independence as he was winding down. He has been national team manager since '08 and is also in charge of a local third division team, FC Nomme United.

7 This is Estonia's 12th attempt at qualifying for a major tournament. They had their first crack back in the 1930s when the country was enjoying a period of independence, but failed to make the '34 and '38 World Cups before merging into the Soviet Union.

8 Tallinn is accessible by sea, and sailing is another popular discipline. A common route to the Estonian capital is via ferry from Helsinki, a route that will be taken by many Irish fans. Tallinn hosted the sailing regatta in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

9 Irish fans should have a good time in Tallinn, which is a popular tourist destination and the European Capital of Culture for 2011. The pedestrian old town area is bustling with energy, with a variety of restaurants and nightspots. It is expensive around the main square, but punters can find value if they look for it.

10 Estonian is the national language, although older citizens would be fluent in Russian, as it used to be a compulsory second language in the Soviet era. The local lingo is closer to Finnish, however. A high level of English is spoken around Tallinn, so there shouldn't be any problems there communicating.

Irish Independent

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