After the game in Bucharest against Romania last week, it’s time to draw some conclusions on the WC 2014 qualification campaign.
First, let’s have a look at the numbers:
- 7 points were the fruit of two wins and one draw. Namely Estonia managed to win only twice with Andorra. The one point came from the draw with Holland.
- They suffered 7 losses (Romania, Turkey, Hungary and one with Holland) and 20 goals.
- Only 6 goals scored by Eesti koondis: 3 to Andorra, 2 to Holland and 1 to Hungary
- Worst result: 5-1 in Budapest
Can we blame the group draw?
The pot gave to Estonia one superpower as Holland.
Forget the poor performance at Euro2012. Dutch football is Dutch football. The 3-0 in Amsterdam was a clear message as it came as the 5th win in a row.
The 2-2 in Tallinn was the biggest surprise of the group as it was the only time when Holland lost points to anyone: 9 wins and 1 draw for Van Gaal side.
It gives even more shine to Rüütli’s men performance regardless the controversy over the last minute penalty.
However it also increases the regrets.
Looking back to the EC 2012 campaign, it was a game played at that level.
Prandelli’s Italy (who reached the final in Kiev) had also an hard life in Tallinn (1-0 for Estonia in first half) but eventually managed to win (2-1). In Modena it was the same story as in Amsterdam this year: 3-0 and ‘arrivederci’.
There will always be a superpower in any qualifying campaign, nothing to do against this.
Holland collected 28 points, Italy 26. Not much of a difference.
Let’s have a look at the other opponents.
The minnowest of the minnows was for obvious reasons, Andorra: the equivalent of San Marino, Liechtenstein, Malta, Faer Oer and Luxembourg (with the latter being the best collecting 6 points) has collected 0 points scoring 0 goals.
Making a 6 points out of them was kind of expected, so no ‘well done’ necessary.
We’re left with: Romania, Hungary and Turkey.
If we take the EC 2012 group, the equivalent of these three was made up by Serbia and Slovenia if we consider Northern Ireland at Estonia’s level: and we can given that the Northern Irish national team ended WC 2014 campaign exactly with same points as Estonia (7).
Definitely the pack of competitive opponents was bigger.
Hungary are definitely much better off than Northern Ireland and have performed very well ending only 3 points far from the play-offs and one ahead of Turkey. The latters made exactly the same points as in EC 2012 campaign, however it was not enough to make it to the play-offs this time.
Was for Estonia feasible to make points with these three opponents?
In EC 2012 they managed to win 4 points against Serbia (the shocking 3-1 win in Belgrade is among the historical games) and 3 in Slovenia.
A total of 7 points, 6 conquered away.
It was certainly a great feat and explains Estonia’s historical second place in the group.
Obviously: ‘fortuna audaces iuvat’ – the fortune goddess helps the braves. The punishment given to Serbia for the turmoils caused by their ultras in Genova during the fixture against Italy (which was suspended and later on awarded 3-0 to Italy) boosted Estonia’s performance in the group and also helped crushing the Serbians morale.
Answer: it was a tougher draw compared to the one for EC 2012 campaign.
Can this be used as an excuse?
Looking at certain performances (the 5-1 in Budapest and the 0-1 loss to Hungary in Tallinn) it’s not possible to imagine that something better than that could have not been achieved.
Especially when playing home, Estonia should have the same attitude shown against Holland.
The Estonian national team reminds me of my hometown club (AS Bari) when playing in Serie A.
The side was notoriously fierce when playing home to big clubs (Juventus, Milan and Inter) however they were not able to deliver similarly with teams of average or same level.
Additionally, if they played their game without the usual intensity, they managed to suffer painful losses.
The same attitude I see in this Estonian national team.
I am sure if Estonia were drawn in a group made up of Italy, Holland, England and Spain, they would play 8 fantastic games. Probably they would collect little, however you would see them playing with the same focus and intensity for all the 8 games.
Obviously is not easy to keep the same focus when you play against Andorra, Hungary, Romania or Turkey. However this is the real challenge for the future campaign (EC 2016 qualifiers).
Answer: the tougher group cannot be taken as an excuse actually would prove the contrary, Estonia was called to give more.
Is there any mitigating circumstance?
Since the start of the campaign the ‘Eesti Koondis’ was blighted by injuries.
The axis that was the basis of EC 2012 qualifiers was blown: Piiroja-Vassilijev-Zenjov.
It is not easy to rebuild a game around a new spine.
Probably, little by little, Ragnar Klavan has replaced Piiroja in the defence line as the first piece of a new spine (fact confirmed by being awarded the captain’s armband).
The injury suffered by Piiroja in the last home game of the campaign against Turkey is probably the ‘amen’ to his national team experience if not football career.
However we’re still far from seeing a replacement for Vassilijev and Zenjov.
The latter is so important to the 4-5-1 deployed by Rüütli that is almost a ‘cannot-do-without’.
Anier would be potentially ready for this formation, however he stills needs to collect the amount of experience needed to fill the gap (his so-far positive experience in Scotland is promising).
Ojamaa will probably be employed more often as a right flanker than a lone striker. He is evidently replacing Tarmo Kink in that role, if it hasn’t already happened.
Other notorius injuries: Śiśov, Puri and, most of all, Morozov. The latter can potentially form a solid pair with Klavan.
Answer: yes, injuries were a mitigating circumstance especially in first part of the campaign.
Has Rüütli any responsibility?
Soon after the last game (2-0 loss in Bucharest) the hot topic was whether ‘Täri’ shall still be the national coach or not.
An answer was given by Aivar Pohlak himself: either we continue with him or we hire a foreigner for a temporary job as, according to him, no one in Estonia has the requirements to coach a national team.
Considering I would not agree with sacking Rüütli (he has been the most positive national team coach in terms of points collected, wins brought home and fine game seen at A.LeCoq in some games) I disagree regarding the fact that no one is ready to take this job.
Looking at the Premium Liiga, I think that (and I have been saying this since earlier times) Igor Prins has a good CV for covering such a role.
Obviously Rüütli at the moment is the most experienced coach at international level, however, when he accepted the job for the first time (2000) for just a one-year spell, he was certainly not.
His successful experience via the Estonian club football (Levadia first and Flora after, 3 national titles and 3 national cups overall) gave him the sufficient prestige to be considered for the national team.
This columnist is not candidating Prins to the role, however he thinks that it is possible to look ‘at home’ and find something good.
As far as concerns Rüütli, 4 years as a national team coach are a long time.
The role per se is different from a club coach: you don’t do your field job every day; meetings are every 2-3 months; the daily contact with the players is missing; the attentions and the pressure of a whole nation is bigger for how smaller this nation is compared to other countries; each qualification cycle is different.
In my modest opinion, if someone shall make ‘Täri’ redundant, that is only himself.
If he feels that he has no more motivations to continue this job; if he feels that he has given what he could; if he feels that he cannot give more, then it’s wise to move on and leave. However it should be only his choice suggested by his heart and mind.
According to his words, he is not ready to jump off the wagon as he declared this morning to Õhtuleht. If this what he really feels, then we shall respect that.
Answer: if he has any responsibility, then it concerns the way the team is motivated for the ‘ordinary’ games.
However this concerns his own motivation. Has he got enough to continue?
Controversies over choosing a player rather than another one, a 4-5-1 formation rather than a 4-4-2, they belong to the ‘business as usual’ things: there have been and will always be.
We need to take a look at the bigger picture of the team performance regardless the individuals’ choice and the systems used. He has proved to be able to give an enjoyable game to Estonia according to their possibilities: disciplined defence and organized counterattack. A combination which is not belittling those who endorse it if they are able to perform it well.
Probably ‘Täri’ will stay until the end of his contract and then move on.
So what went wrong in the end?
Injuries affected Rüütli’s work immediately at the start.
The group draw was obviously quite tough and the previous campaign had left a different taste in fans mouth.
However Estonians shouldn’t forget that the previous WC campaign (2010) had Estonia collecting eight points, just one more than WC 2014.
Was EC 2012 campaign an exception confirming the rule?
Probably, however once expectations are risen they should be met at least on the focus and mentality point of view: Estonia must enter the pitch like a side who made it to the play-offs because they deserved it not just because ‘hey, we were very lucky!’.
We will never get tired to repeat: it’s a brain thing.
What went good?
Unfortunately very little. We can count them with one hand:
1) the incredible performance with Holland;
2) the atmosphere at A.LeCoq;
3) the positive performances by some youngsters (Anier and Ojamaa);
The national team squad needs to know who will be the guide for the next years. Any hesitation in the decisions from any side will just create uncertainty in the players’ minds over who will actually judge their performances and call them up. If Rüütli’s thought is to guide the national team until the end of his contract, he should openly say that. If EJL intention is to find a replacement after him, not only they should already work on that, but they should announce it beforehand.
In general, football is a brain game, we don’t need a psychologist however motivation shall be kept high.
Even a healthy competition within the group is welcome.
It is good to be friends, however if I make your life harder to get a place in the Starting XI, you will give more to outplay me. It’s a Darwinian rule of football. Like it or not, it works. Obviously some players are more prone to give their best under pressure, some not. Eventually a Starting XI will not be made with the latters.
We need more incredible performances to see A.LeCoq overbrimming with fans.
However the fans shouldn’t be deluded by the WC 2014 campaign: they lived on a high two years ago; but they should think back to the previous 20 years of campaigns and consider it an extraordinary season. It might happen again, however it does not happen very often.
The judgement must be balanced as punishing the squad for going back to the same soup it would not be fair.
We are looking forward to the young and promising talents home and abroad to grow fast and replace this generation.
The future can be bright.