Beautiful Monday evening in Tallinn and great conditions at the A. Le Coq Arena at the start of the qualifications for Euro 2016. Both teams would like to start the campaign with a win, but who will get the best of the opening game? Estonia certainly has the advantage of playing in front of the home crowd, but Slovenia comes with desire for revenge and a point to prove from the previous EURO qualifications.
The coach of the home team Magnus Pehrsson obviously satisfied with the performance, decided not to change anything from the team that faced Sweden last Thursday. The standard Sergei Pareiko was between the sticks, captain Klavan and Igor Morozov were deployed in front of him, Ken ’Raudmees’ Kallaste took on the left full-back position, Teijo Teniste on the right. Karol Mets was given defensive midfield responsibilities, Martin Vunk and Joel Lindpere played just in front of him. Sergei Zenjov and Ilja Antonov were used on the right and left wing, respectively, and Henri Anier was alone in attack. 4-1-4-1 formation that was supposed to give strength to the midfield and at the same time give more options to attack down the flanks and through the center of the field.
Srecko Katanec also came out with no serious surprises. Samir Handanovic was on the goal, Miral Samardzic and captain Bostjan Cesar in central defense, Miso Brecko on the right full-back position, Andraz Struna on the left, Dalibor Stevanovic was tasked with stopping Estonian attacks in midfield, Rajko Rotman and Jasmin Kurtic were deployed on the right and left midfield position, repectively, Josip Ilicic operated the right flank, Kevin Kampl the left and Milivoje Novakovic was the only central forward.
The match started with almost a shocker for the home team. One mistake by the captain Klavan could put them a goal behind but luckily for him Pareiko was there for the rescue. In the 4th minute Handanovic on the other side punched the ball into corner after one dangerous throw in towards his goal. In the 8th minute good combination between Brecko and Rotman and corner for Slovenia. Captain Cesar jumped the highest, but his shot was saved from the line by Teniste. In the 12th minute excellent chance for the hosts when Zenjov got rid from one defender, but his shot went wide. In the 16th minute nice run by Ilicic, passed Klavan, but Mets was there to stop him. That was a period in which Slovenia dominated in midfield and had more of the ball but were unable to test Pareiko more seriously. In the 35th minute huge mess in front of Estonia’s goal, but luckily it ended well for them. In the 40th minute new chance for Estonia, but they didn’t manage to pull out a shot.
Difficult 45 minutes for both teams as none of them managed to establish control in the center of the field nor to attack towards the goal more seriously. Slovenians probably had a bit more of the ball, but Estonian midfield and defense were on high level and didn’t allow any early disappointments in front of their home crowd. The coaches also have their own tactical battle, but so far they weren’t able to pull out that magical touch that will break the deadlock.
The second half started in the same way with battles and destructions in the center of the park. In the 58th minute huge chance for the Estonian national team when the ball from corner came straight on to Morozov’s head who couldn’t direct it towards Handanovic’s net. Three minutes later the crowd was again on their feet when the home team was trying to push for that long awaited goal, but they didn’t manage to pull out a shot towards the Handanovic. In the 75th minute Rotman threatened from distance, but his shot went just wide. In the 79th minute key moment in the game as Stevanovic was booked for the second time and Slovenia were down to 10 men. In the 85th minute Magnus Pehrsson made his last substitution, replacing the veteran Lindpere with Slovenia’s nightmare Ats Purje. Already in the first attack this move paid off as Purje sneaked behind Slovenia’s defense to beat Handanovic after the latter made 3 incredible saves in one attack to prevent the hosts from scoring. 1-0 for Estonia with just 4 minutes to go and delirium on the stands. The deadlock was finally broken and the all important three points were a reality. The well set tactics helped Estonians to maintain their lead until the final whistle for a huge round of aplause at the end of the match and big three points to start the campaign before their matches against Lithuania and England next month.