The day after Latvia-Estonia, reading comments and articles around, it was like Estonia had lost 5-0.
I checked the date as I was not sure whether it was the 30th of May 2014 or not. I thought I have might have been catapulted into a future date when Estonia missed the chance to qualify to the quarterfinals of some big tournament (World Cup or Euro Cup, it doesn’t really matter considering they never qualified for neither of those) by losing to their ‘hated’ neighbours.
Losing at penalties after a goalless draw where, admittedly, Estonia’s game had not shone much.
However, the calendar was relieving me: we are still in 2014 and Estonia have not qualified, unfortunately, for any big tournament yet.
Baltic Cup: a test tournament
What we’re talking about is the ‘Baltic Cup’.
A noble tournament (the oldest in Europe and now also acknowledged by FIFA for the ranking – don’t tell the Finns who lost to Lithuania) however something not even comparable to a big tournament as we know it.
It’s obviously a nice fair where the Baltic national teams plus Finland, challenge each other and their rivalries. Additionally, it gives the fans a chance to taste a ‘tournament atmosphere’ hoping one day they could get a longer trip to somewhere else than to Liepaja, Latvia.
The tournament falls in a traditionally delicate period for Estonia: end of May-June.
Estonia: a puzzle to put together for Pehrsson
With most of the internationals belonging to continental clubs, it means that for most of them the season is basically over. Under this point of view, despite the obvious pride one should carry when going to represent his own country, there are several issues concerning both the lack of motivation and the lack of physical form.
Most of the involved footballers are basically seeing (consciously or unconsciously) this period just as the last obstacle between them and the deserved holidays.
In some cases, some players (many, actually, when talking about the Estonian internationals) have suffered from injuries throughout the season which have prevented to reach the end in a satisfactory way (one example: Sander Puri, whose former club, York City FC, released him after deploying him very little). Or, they were simply dropped from the starting XI for other reasons (another example: Kostantin Vassiljev, the national team star-player who did not get a regular start at Amkar Perm).
Adding further disgrace to this sad picture, some players managed to pick up injuries on the run. Magnus Pehrsson had to resort to additional call-ups in order to avoid worst consequences that might jeopardize September EC 2016 qualifiers.
On the other hand, fresh blood was brought into the squad by picking up from Premium Liiga best talents (and some old acquaintance of the national team) and by calling what seems to be the purest talent Estonia might have ever expressed, Frank Liivak.
What would probably sound as a hazardous talk (Liivak is only 17 after all) it is suggested by the way he approached the friendly game against Gibraltar, trying to show his skills with no fear in front of the almost 5000 people.
Trust me, there are not so many players with such confidence.
And in country with 1.3 million people, they might be even less.
Frank was righteously given back to the U-21 to help Reim&Co. to face Russia this evening in Tallinn: go and have a look if you didn’t on Monday, worth it (18:00 in 'A.LeCoq Arena')
These call-ups should be taken as a clear message for the so-called ‘veterans’: we’re starting a new cycle.
The new cycle had started already earlier when Karol Mets and Artjom Artjunin (just to name two of the Estonia squad in Liepaja today – Artjunin reached the group after the makeover) were called up by Tarmo Rüütli to face Azerbaidjan in November.
It was and is a necessary step and it won’t be painless as, simply, the older generation is ageing and the new one needs to grow, get experience and be brave one day.
No one shall get white hair if I say that this might happen at the expenses of any (tiny) chance to qualify for EC 2016.
The process needs time: losing to Latvia might have been beneficial
The national team that brought Estonia to the higher level of their history (the Euro Cup 2012 play-off in 2011) will be making little by little space to new names on the back of the blue jerseys.
Even today’s game against Finland, apparently meaningless, will have a meaning as Pehrsson will use many ‘second lines’ in order not to risk the ‘firstliners’. A necessity which might bring good suggestions to the coach.
In fact, those who will go on the pitch against the number 52 of the FIFA ranking are, likely, to earn a call also in Autumn when the qualification campaign will start.
It will be Pehrsson’s first time with Estonia against an high-ranked country (Gibraltar – two games – and Latvia are both behind) therefore a good test to understand who can really stay at this level and who cannot.
Paradoxically, clashing with Finland for a third place at the Baltic Cup, it might have more meaning than having gone to play the final against Lithuania.
In the end, Vunk’s miss and Mets hitting the post might have been more useful than we think.