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European qualifiers, Group E: Estonia vs. Slovenia, match preview

Angelo PalmeriComment

Estonia vs. Slovenia, an almost parallel history


If Sweden-Estonia carried some history along with itself, Estonia-Slovenia is no less worth.

The very first game between the two countries happened in 1992, in the dawn of the end of the Eastern block.

The 3rd of June 1992 is an historic date for both football nations. In fact, about a year earlier, both Estonia and Slovenia, obtained their independence respectively from Soviet Union and Jugoslavia. It was the second independence for Estonia, the first one for Slovenians who played their very first game as an independent country.

A draw was probably the most polite way to welcome both countries in the World football family. The game took place in Tallinn’s Kadriorg’s stadium and it was Estonia’s 108th official game. The last one was played in 1940 when Estonia beat Latvia 2-1 before both football associations were closed down to melt into the Soviet Union FA for 50 years.

Both countries became independent in 1991 (June for Slovenia, August for Estonia) and kicked off their own football almost soon after.

Two names are tied to the footballing history of both countries: Aleksandr Puśtov and Igor Benedejic. They were the authors of the first goals scored by the two national teams. It was Slovenia to take the lead with a powerful set-piece taken by Puśtov (present-day coach at FC Infonet, Estonian top-flight – see video highlights below) on the 7th minute, until Benedejcic (coming on from the bench) pulled level on 73rd minute with a diving header. Igor is also a coach nowadays, at NK Interblock Ljubljana (he stepped in to replace Italian coach Alberto Bigon affected by medical issues).

It did not take long for the two countries to meet again. A year after, Estonia visited Ljubliana. This time the result was in favour of the hosts who brought home a 2-0 win.

The first encounter at a qualifier, it was for England Euro 96. With a double game (March and June 1995) Slovenia secured a 6-1 aggregate starting to dig a gap with the Baltic opposition.

However, they had to wait 12 years to meet again.
In 2007, in a friendly in Domzales, Slovenia beat Estonia with a tiny win (1-0).
Three years later, it was the historical landmark for Estonia as the tiny Baltic country reached the play-offs of the Euro 2012 placing themselves second (!) behind Prandelli’s Italy. Contrary to the home game in Tallinn (0-1 and goal gifted by Sidorenkov to the guests), Estonia managed to pull an historical win in Ljubliana that contributed to building the success of Tarmo Rüütli’s squad.

The 2011 hero, Kostantin Vassiljev, opened the score from the penalty box and in the same country where he was plying his trade at club level during that time. When Estonia was about to see the three points, Tim Matavz pulled level (78’) only for Ats Purje to bring the guests forward once again three minutes later and till time (see video highlights below).

It is the last great memory tied to this game and the previous Euro Cup qualification spell.


Estonia 1w
Draw 1
Slovenia 5w


Slovenia, not only Kampl


Srecko Katanec is bringing 23 men to Estonia to face the ‘Hedgehogs’ in the 8th confrontation between the two national teams.

One of the names that outstand is certainly the one of Kevin Kampl, the star of FC Salzburg. The 23-year-old (just turned) right flanker managed to serve 26 assists in the previous season (Austrian top-flight and UEFA Europa League – see video below) helping FC Salzburg to top the table at the end of season and have a good run in the European competition. Born in Germany (Solingen), he started his career in the youth of Bayer Leverkusen, being therefore a product of the German system of academies. He left Germany in 2012 to head to Salzburg after a season at VfR Aalen.
Kampl has been deemed in the interest range of Turkish club Galatasaray.

However, Kampl is not the only name of the Slovenian side.
The arch-famous Samir Handanovic is between the sticks. For Estonian fans he is an ‘Estonian hero’ after he saved a penalty against Serbia allowing Estonia to clinch the play-off spot in 2011 (see fans reaction in the video below made by Tartu Tammeka member of board, Kalle Paas, back then) .

A group of fans created a Facebook page in his honour (now abandoned) to thank him for his deeds. Samir was also sent a package of beer from Estonia by 'Saku' brewery.

Besides that penalty, Handanovic is one of the expert at penalty saving.
In Serie A season 2010-11 at Udinese, he saved six with the ‘Zebrette’ jersey and on opening game of Serie A, he helped it to bring home a goalless draw after saving a penalty to FC Torino's striker  Larrondo.

How Estonian fans welcomed Samir's save in 2011 against Serbia

Katanec deploys a 4-2-3-1 with Novakovic being the lone striker up front. Contrary to his natural role, Kampl plays behind. According to RdS sources, this should be the expected XI.

A special eye should be kept also on Josip Ilicic, the Fiorentina’s midfielder who had a positive debut against AS Roma on Serie A opening day.

Valter Birsa probably sounded like a laughing stock when he joined AC Milan last season with the scope of being a valid back-up for the wrecked ship directed by Massimiliano Allegri first and Clarence Seedorf later. However, the former FC Torino and Genoa CFC, disappointed the critics and honoured his only spell at a big club with several good performances and two goals in 15 appearances. He now moved to ChievoVerona to join forces with his national team captain, Bostian Cesar.

Slovenia did not hold any friendly game before travelling to Estonia. Their last game was an Argentina’s warm-up for the World Cup on the 7th of June. 2-0 win for the WC runners-up in La Plata with Alvarez and Messi scoring the goals. The game got popular as Argentina's team showed a banner claiming 'Las Malvinas son Argentinas' - The Falklans are Argentine - which cost the AFA a fine.

Bojan Jokic (Villareal – SPA) was not called up due to injury.

Estonia, better to rely on 4-2-3-1

Ahead of this game, Pehrsson has four issues to solve:

-         Whether to go on with 4-1-4-1 (as against Sweden) until Vassiljev will be back (and could be November according to the last medical report) or reintroduce the 4-2-3-1 experimented during the summer;

-         In case he will opt for the latter, who to entrust Vassiljev’s role;

-         Whether field Karol Mets again or not in the defensive midfielder role;

-         Whether to replace Igor Morozov in the centre of the defence.

After a summer spent trying the 4-2-3-1, it looks like the 4-1-4-1 solution might be too hasty. Considering Slovenia will be adopting the same system, the risk would be to have one single midfielder to have to deal with Mertelj and Kurtic. If that midfielder will be Mets, the risk will be too high in a three-point game that sounds already like a final for Estonia. If Pehrsson will decide to continue to entrust Karol in his new role (at club level he is a defender), it would be advisable to pair him with a  more experienced act.

Martin Vunk could be the solution. However, why not letting Ilja Antonov playing in his natural role? The young Levadia midfielder proved good at breaking the opposition’s build-up and restarting the Estonian own, he could be the right choice in front of Klavan&Co for quick counters on the breaks.

Joel Lindpere proved himself well in Stockholm and might earn the stripes of Vassiljev’s deputy for the debut behind Henri Anier.

Probably there is no trustworthy alternative to Morozov and Pehrsson will give him another start.

A variation might be giving back to Mets his natural role (central defender along with Klavan). However, the other issue connected with this solution is the little international experience of the young Flora player, which in defence can be fatal – Novakovic has played 60 games for Slovenia. Morozov might still look like the best choice provided he won’t give Novakovic the same space he gave to Ibrahimovic.

In the light of these considerations and seen what happened in Stockholm, this seems to be as the most reasonable XI for the debut at A.LeCoq Arena.