The derby it’s not important, the European qualifier game it’s important itself.
This is the message that came from yesterday’s presser at Radisson Blu Lietuva. The Estonian squad looks at this game as one of the many fixtures they will have to face in the next months to make the dream (third place) come true.
Whether it will be a derby or not, it won’t make so much difference for Pehrsson&Co.
However, Estonia’s future of this campaign passes through this derby and the Lithuanians are highly motivated to show that they don’t deserve to be the third wheel in the Baltics.
Even the slogan accompanying this game, ‘Bring Your Heart’, shows how much emotional it will be for them.
In 2006, when Lithuania was drawn with Italy in the Euro 2008 qualification group, they travelled to Napoli and ruined Italy’s parade with the freshly won World Cup trophy. Present-day coach of the Estonian side FC Santos Tartu, Algimantas Liubinskas, was at the helm of the ‘yellows’. The 1-1* was probably like a swan’s song for the Lithuanian national team who soon slipped from the top of the FIFA ranking of the Baltic states.
Their place was taken little by little by Estonia mostly thanks to their 2011 feat when they reached the European qualifiers play-offs only to lose against Trapattoni’s Ireland. Their great achievement sky-rocketed their position around the number 40 of the table bringing the best result ever in the FIFA-ranking.
However, the draw against Italy was not the only high moment of the past long 8 years. 'We can mention the games against Romania and Austria,' reminds Justas Kontrimas, who as given us an outlook of the yellow squad 'it was 2008, we crushed the formers 3-0 away and the latters 2-0 home. That was our top moment despite the draw in Italy brought us some big headlines. It was the time when Jose Couceiro was in charge but the Lithuanian FA took some questionable decisions' concluded the Lithuanian colleague.
The shift of power has been ever since with Lithuania falling behind Latvia too.
Undoubtedly, it is a chance for Lithuania to re-affirm the (lost) leadership.
The tradition in the European qualifiers against Estonia (4 games) it’s favourable: 3 wins against 1 (check the details here)
For Lithuania, it will be a matter of pride. Pehrsson knows that, that’s why he says he will be content also with a point knowing that Lithuania will travel to Tallinn next year.
What are the options for Pankratjevas? Does he risk criticism at home?
'We couldn't be happier with Igor as we are the leaders of our group!' jokes Justas as Lithuania is actually first with England for goal difference 'jokes apart, he has brought fresh blood since he replaced Laszlo (Cszaba Laszlo -edit). Giving him a permanent manager role was the right decision. The team looks better not only according to the results, but the game looks rejuvenated. The press respects him and the fans...they don't expect miracles but I think opting for local manager rather than a foreigner was correct.'
WINNING IS THE ONLY OPTION
However, Estonia cannot be content with a draw.
On Sunday, they will take on England which will have 6 points (those who think San Marino could pose a serious threat to the Three Lions, please rise a hand…).
Any Estonian fan would sign a document stating that, in exchange for a draw against Lithuania, they will win England at A.LeCoq Arena. It’s understandable.
Small countries always dream of taking the big scalps in football.
It almost happened several times in the past years.
Italy had to turn the game on its head in 2010.
Holland surrendered the only points of their 2014 WC campaign in Tallinn (October 2013).
In a friendly game, Estonia beat Forlan’s Uruguay 2-0 (2011).
Punching above your weight does not pay off in the long term, however it helps strengthening the feeling of belonging to a small but great football nation. The Estonian average fan always wants a feat to be remembered for ages and to be told to grandchildren one day. Yesterday, most Estonian media celebrated three years since Estonia beat Serbia 3-1 in Belgrade. Serbia are not in the top10 of the football nations, and this should already give an idea of what we are trying to say.
Estonia, with 1.3 million people, it’s one among the smallest football countries in Europe, only bigger than latecomers Gibraltar and other ‘traditional’ ones as Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino and Luxembourg albeit bigger geographically.
However, no one can predict the future of what will happen on Sunday when probably Estonia will close in their half and wait for England to come up with the ball and concede spaces for counterattacks.
The present is now and it’s named Lithuania. Under this point of view, even if a win in Vilnius is not going to be reminded for ages, it will still be much more important than a draw and Estonia will have to make the game in the long run of the 90 minutes.
If Estonia will collect three points tonight, they will sit down with England at A.LeCoq Arena being level and after having played, comparatively, two average opponents of their level. Most of all, direct rivals in the race for the third place.
Winning tonight matters more than anything else.
BID FOR EURO 2016
Klavan is right to say that Estonia doesn’t need further motivation, the bid for the third place is enough to add that and spice up what is still a derby.
Beating Slovenia in Tallinn was a great start of the campaign and gave Estonia the undiscussed role of favourites for this game.
No one whispered that, but Estonia are indeed favourites with Lithuania starting in the role of underdogs.
What puts them in common, it is the same dream: reaching the third place and travelling to the play-off games.
Only one will be able to do that and the game tonight might already tell us who could fairly bid.
Angelo Palmeri from Vilnius
Estonia's XI: Rumori's prediction
Lithuanian team news
VIDEO: groundchecking at LFF Stadionas
The referee of the game, Carlos Clos Gomez (SPA)
*Danilevicius opened the score only for present-day AC Milan coach, Pippo Inzaghi, to pull level. Few of the players have survived from that game: Kalonas, Malinauskas and Mikoliunas.