Rumori di Spogliatoio

European campaign 2014: balance and roundup

Angelo PalmeriComment

In the previous version of this article we had wrongly indicated Hidetoshi Wakui as the all-time topscorer of Kalju in the European Cups (4 goals) as we wrongly accounted him for a brace in Lankaran in the scoredraw (2-2) with Xhazar in summer 2012. The second goal was actually scored by Eino Puri. Apologies.


In the summer of 1990 a famous Italian tune was invading the radios of all Europea and the World…

Forse non sara’ una canzone / Maybe it won’t be this song
A cambiare le regole del gioco / to change the rules of The Game
Ma voglio viverla cosi’ quest’avventura / But I want to live this adventure like this
Senza frontiere e con il cuore in gola / Beyond borders and heart in throat

The World Cup 1990 official anthem,  still remembered after so many years.

I think the initial words well sum up the European adventure of the Estonian clubs that just ended tonight in Poznan.

Kalju fans in Poznan (Twitter)

Kalju fans in Poznan (Twitter)

Maybe it will not be this 3-0 suffered by Kalju to change things. There will be another Kalju next year trying to challenge Europe and rise the limit to another level (they already did a lot last year when they reached the Europa League play-offs). As there will be probably another Levadia and, assumingly, Flora will return back to the stage at the expense of Eastern Estonia.

We have lived this adventure as every year: no borders and heart in throat.

The Estonian clubs travelled far up North (Iceland) to the warmth of the South (San Marino); from the most neighbouring country (Finland) to the borders of geographical Europe (North Caucasus).

Heiko Tamm being celebrated in San Marino for the winner scored on injury time

Heiko Tamm being celebrated in San Marino for the winner scored on injury time

We were all heart in throat following Kalju with all different means: Twitter, live updates in Polish (thank you Google Translate!) and Estonian, Polish emotional radio commentary. Kalju was ahead and qualified to the next round for 123’ minutes until a header by full-back Kedziora pulled level on aggregate and kicked off Lech’s comeback completed by Finnish Hämäläinen and striker Konawcki, knocking Kalju on a quick counter while Prins’ men were up front to try the final all-in in injury time. One goal would have been enough to qualify them, instead the 3-0 sounded like the final sentence.

After the emotions of four weeks, it’s time to draw a line and make a balance.

EASY FIRST ROUND, TOUGHER SECOND ONE

We will probably state the obvious by saying that at a first glance it is easy to understand why the first round was more successful than the second: the opponents of the first were evidently weaker than the ones of the second.

The draw for Santos was a 'mission impossible'

The draw for Santos was a 'mission impossible'

Excluding Santos, whose task was awkward since the very moment they qualified to the Europa League, San Marino (La Fiorita), Iceland (FRAM) and Finland (FC Honka) did not represent the hardest of the opponents available. Probably Sillamäe had the most difficult task and in fact their ticket to the second qualifier came after some additional thirty minutes and a last-minute goal to prove FC Honka was the toughest among the three. Even if the tradition says that Finnish teams have been prevailing over Estonian ones in the past, the last two season have shown that the top Estonian clubs can compete with the Finnish ones.

When the second round was drawn, it was evident that Czech Republic (Sparta), Poland (Lech Poznan) and Russia (FC Krasnodar) were going to be a much more complicated obstacle to go past. Paradoxically, we thought FC Krasnodar would have been the ‘easiest’ among the three, instead the young club shown that any Russian top5 club is still too much for an Estonian podium-club. The 9-0 on aggregate (4-0 in Tallinn and 5-0 in Krasnodar) equalled (for goal difference) the 10-1 suffered by the Eastern Estonia club at their first European tie (Dinamo Minsk). A severe lesson for a club that probably will not qualify for next European season (unless they exploit their chances in the cup route).

Lech fans' telling-off in Tallinn did pay off in Poznan

Lech fans' telling-off in Tallinn did pay off in Poznan

We probably did not expect either Levadia being trashed that way in Prague: a 7-0 loss which represents the club’s worst loss ever on the European stage and equalled the loss suffered by Santos against Tromsoe from Norway a week earlier. Levadia showed an embarrassing defensive organization which explains why Sparta had such an easy life allowing themselves to travel back to Tallinn and field a team of reserves. The pride was restored (1-1) and Lavicka gave also the the ‘honours of war’ to Levadia for the good performance. If we want to find a positive thing in Levadia’s campaign, they are unbeaten home since 2012 when they lost to Anorthosis Famagusta from Cyprus. For Kristal’s men is now time to focus on the domestic league in order to try and clinch the 9th title that would mean a chance to exploit the negative experience accumulated this season in next season's Champions League.

After making his fans suffer in the return game in Tallinn against FRAM, the victory against Poznan represents the authentic pearl of the Estonian clubs this season. Together with Levadia beating Wisla in 2009, it will stay as the only time when an Estonian club got better of a Polish one. The return game, we all know about it. However it was an honourable loss with Kalju resisting on goalless draw for more than half an hour and keeping Lech nervous until the 3-0 on counterattack came.

 

ARE ESTONIAN CLUBS MORE COMPETITIVE?

KALJUFRAM.jpg

With three clubs progressing altogether from one round to the other (it never happened) many celebrated in a triumphalist tone the great achievement of the Estonian clubs, probably forgetting that the draw was quite generous with our clubs. Even comparison with neighbouring countries clubs were made, however, at a quick glance, Latvian and Lithuanian clubs were handled more tough oppositions (among those we can quote Abderdeen from Scotland and Rosenborg from Norway).

Whether Premium Liiga clubs are superior or not to Virsliga and A-Lyga is a much more complex topic and cannot be discussed by simply looking at the European results and the UEFA ranking (and in the latter, Estonia, is still slightly behind).

We shall look at each league tables and at the gaps between the top5 and the bottom5 as all three Baltic countries feature 10 clubs each in the top flights. We will postpone this analysis to another article, however, at a quick glance, it would look like that, exception made for each club at the very bottom, the gaps are shorter in A-Lyga and Virsliga compared to Premium Liiga, suggesting the latter is not as much competitive as the former. We will go back on this topic.


FACTS AND NUMBERS OF THE 2014 CAMPAIGN

-         The Estonian clubs closed the campaign with 5 wins, 2 draws and 7 losses

-         The Estonian clubs scored 19 goals and suffered 35 goals (goal difference -16)

-         20 of the 35 goals conceded were scored in three games: Santos vs. Tromsoe IL 0-7, Tromsoe IL vs. Santos 6-1 and Sparta Praha vs. Levadia 7-0

-         7 of the 19 goals netted were scored in just one game: Levadia vs. La Fiorita 7-0

-         The topscorers of the campaign were Hidetoshi Wakui (Kalju), Igor Subbotin (Levadia), Artjom Artjunin (Levadia) and Evgeni Kabaev (Sillamäe) 2 goals each.

-         Subbotin and Artjunin scored a brace each in the same game vs. La Fiorita (7-0)

-         With his two goals, Hidetoshi Wakui became Nõmme Kalju’s all-time topscorer in Europe with 3 goals together with Damiano Quintieri after one year.

-         Levadia managed to clinch two records, one positive and one negative: the 7-0 win over San Marino champions was the largest ever for an Estonian club; however, in the second round, they suffered the largest loss of their personal European history.

-         Both Santos vs. Tromsoe IL and Sparta Praha vs. Levadia are the second largest losses Estonian clubs suffered in Europe (unbeated record is 10-0 suffered by Norma Tallinn).

-         Sillamäe managed to improve their European record by making to the second qualifying round for the very first time at their second attempt.

-         The first and only historical European goal for FC Santos Tartu will always carry the name of Alar Alve.

Alar Alve, Santos' history man

Alar Alve, Santos' history man

-         The home games of the Estonian clubs were played in three different cities and four different stadia: Tallinn (Levadia, Kalju, Sillamäe vs. Krasnodar) Rakvere (Sillamäe vs. FC Honka) and Tartu (Santos); the venues were Kadriorg Park Stadium (4 games) A.LeCoq Arena (1 game) Tamme Stadium (1 game) Rakvere City Stadium (1 game)

-         With Santos Tartu reaching the European cups for the first time, the list of Estonian clubs making it to any UEFA competition (European Cup/Champions League, UEFA Cup/Europa League, Cup Winners’ Cup and Intertoto) is made up of 13 clubs: Flora, Levadia, Nõmme Kalju, FC TVMK, Lantana, Norma, Tallinna Sadam, FC Nikol, Sillamäe Kalev, Narva Trans, Viljandi Tulevik and Tervis Pärnu.