As any respectable league in Europe, also Estonia is accustomed to start with the Supercup.
The side who is notably absent is Flora Tallinn. The club with most of the Supercups won (7) is staying home this year as stage is left to Nõmme Kalju (first time league champion last year) and Levadia Tallinn (Estonian Cup winner). Fair enough, as both sides were the ones battling for the league title last season.
Sportland Arena (the foreground close to A.Le Coq Stadium) is the usual venue for the season kick-off. The only stand is quite full (608 the attendance, when the average top league attendance has been 160 people last year). According to Estonian standards, weather is good: 0´C and clear sky.
Since the start of the game the pattern is quite evident.
Nõmme Kalju trying to develop their game with a defensive 4-4-2 changing into 3-5-2 when attacking The opposition, with a large and quick side-to-side moving 4-4-2, trying to stop the Kalju game down the flanks with full pressing and high defence line. In the top league clashes last season Kristal never managed to overcome Prins´ side (3 draws and 1 loss), the way he has set up the game looks like he wants to break the spell and in silverware worth game.
Kalju suffer. They cannot use the wings as they prefer as Levadia is closing all the space. Until the 17´ nothing remarkable: long balls with no effects and Kalju moving slowing the ball right to left and return with no clear result. As usual, in such stalemate, it´s the episode that unblocks the score.
Country fellow Marco Bianchi (at season´s debut and replacing ill Alo Bärengrub as defense skipper) secures the ball out of the touch line with a no-frill clearance. On this apparently innocuous throw-in, Levadia manages to develop a quick action with a cross that reaches nr. 28 Rimo Hunt. Perfect chest control back for Artur Rättel who, from 20 meters circa explodes a volley shot that hits Teles: 0-1!
Basically with no effort and from a throw-in situation, Levadia pulls out the game lead. The most result with the minimum effort.
A dream situation for Kristal who can rest on having his side just restraining Kalju´s game, making them tired and then hit with counterattack. Kalju tries to develop mostly on the right side with the duo Sisov-Toomet (both former Levadia playes), however the most that they manage to produce on that side it´s a cross by Toomet slapped in corner by Smishko. Neemelo up front is fighting like the usual work dog trying to win the space and turn himself: he manages that at 40´ but the shot is not dangerous. Another alternative to Kalju game would be Wakui pace and tempo, however the Japanese wizard is lower on the defence line, far from the attack line being pressured constantly by the opposition. In Levadia, after Morozov left for Polonia Warsaw, Artunin is the master of the defence and keeps Neemelo under control inside the box. The last tremor of the first half is a diagonal shot by Levadia which is safely saved by Teles.
Second half. Kalju starts immediately from the same point of first half: trying to wind up Levadia in their maneuver. Neemelo has a good chance on Koogas set-piece with a header by hitting the further post, however Wakui is picked on offside on the rebounce (he anyway missed the ball). This is the best chance Kalju has had so far to score a goal, and it came only in second half. The script of the game doesn´t change: Levadia wait, exert high pressing with well coordinate action by flankers and forwards who cut in alternatively to help each flank, and then will try to exploit the spaces left by Kalju. It looks like Kristal watched Milan – Barcelona last week and learnt the lesson on how to stop virtuous teams and preventing them from playing their football as they want.
Our notepad is full of chances, much more compared to the first half. First remarkable thing from Levadia is a shot by Subbotin at 9´ which is deflected in corner by the defence. At 11´ Prins decides to change a bit: out the new signing Kimbaloula (offspring of Lille OSC academy, refused Norwich to play in Kalju!) in Melts which switches wings with Toomet and brings in more physicality. It´s just a men change, as formation is not affected and the game pattern is still the same. On a Levadia break comes the second goal: action is again developed from the left. The ball travels within the box after an apparently innocuous surface cross, however Kalju defence line is slow to react and after Wakui attempt, Bianchi tries to desperately reach the ball before Subbotin, the latter kicks it in behind Teles before the sliding tackle by the Italian and secures the lead to 0-2. It´s again a episode conditioning the game.
At this point (15´) Kalju has still all the time to score a goal that at least would put pressure on Levadia until the end of the game. However, with a 2-0 lead, Levadia has no need to prove themselves and uncover, therefore they keep the same game as before with patience and resilience. Kaljulack the ability to switch quickly the game from left to right. The ball travels from man to man, from one side to the other: it takes too much time to make it on the other flank and at that time Levadia are already positioned. Wakui would have the abilities to do that, however he manages only couple of times either because is well kept in control or because he is a bit too shy to propose himself this time. Prins encourages him a bit by probably telling him to move a bit forward and leave Eino Puri to guard the defence as the less-endowed midfielder: at this point, there´e nothing to lose. That´s why Prins puts in Kirss, another Estonian boy, and calls to bench Usami: a 18-year-old Japanese already in the national team milieu at academy level. Kosuke seems to have good moves, however he has still to get used to the Estonian football pleasantries.
All these moves become just records for the scorecard as six minutes later, on a quick counterattack, Kalju´s defence is caught unprepared and is run through by Rättel who finishes the cross received from left. It´s the ´amen´ on the game. Still 24´ minutes to go, but it couldn´t look worse for the defending Estonian champions. They actually manage to react and obtain a promising free-kick from just outside the box. The chance requires Smishko best skills to deflect Koogas set-piece in the corner kick. Probably the best chance of the game and only conceded to Kalju onfree-kick, quite telling about how the game theme was. Wakui now is definitely more up in the midfield line, trying to look for Neemelo who´s working hard to make gold out of few good passes he manages to receive. At 27´ minute, the other country fellow of Kalju, Damiano Quintieri, comes in for Toomet. Prins plays the last card (maybe a bit too late) and asks Quintieri to be more up on the flank, the formation is definitely a 4-3-3 now.
Levadia young boys are a bit tired now and leave more space on the pitch to Kalju who manage to develop something however are weak in finalizing. The game is at this point channeled to the Levadia success. At 33´ a remarkable foul by Kulinits on Quintieri is sanctioned with a due yellow card by the referee. Mr. Tarajev had an overall good management of the game which was based on a substantial fair play from both sides without giving up to the typical physicality of Estonian football. Again a last chance for Neemelo, Smishko saves his header on a Koogas free kick. That is the very last emotion and Levadia can celebrate their 5th Supercup received by the hands of Mr Aivar Pohlak, Estonian Football Federation patron.
Levadia young boys seem quite promising, however they will have to pass the endurance test of a long season and required to be checked when they will meet weaker sides which will tend to wait for them developing the game as it seems that Levadia privileges the central channels and lever on the trio Subbotin-Rattel-Hunt for creating something up there. It´s great stand-out success, but this is only an appetizer.
Kalju seemed less fresh than Levadia, probably their season build-up has been heavier in order to last longer, however their quick maneuver was not as quick as we learnt to see. Considering what Kalju showed us last year, we´re sure there´s room to improve, especially thinking about the European campaign that will take place in the heart of the Summer with their first ever Champions League preliminary round. Prins has always proved to be a good coach, before in Levadia and now in Kalju, so he´s probably already thinking about something for the upcoming league debut on Saturday .
We asked him about Bianchi and Quintieri.
– What do you think about Bianchi´s performance? Will he be picked up more often for first team?
´I´m quite happy about Marco, he had to replace Alo (Barengrub) who is ill. I don´t know if he will be stably in first team compared to last year, season is long and we have already a game on Saturday´
- Quintieri got in quite late and replaced new signing Toomet, will he be in starting XI again like last season?
´Damiano is recovering from an injury, so little by little we will have him back in the starting XI. I´m happy with Toomet, he did a good job as a first time with new mates and I pulled him out just because we have another game soon´
And it´s a trip to central Estonia for the defending champions in the weekend as Paide will receive them on their ground.
Levadia will host Tartu at Maarjamäe sporting center. Until the meltdown, grass pitches are frozen and season kicks off on artificial grass for all the A.Le Coq Premium Liiga clubs.
We will follow Flora Tallinn – Kalev Tallinn for you: going to check how the other giant is doing and how far the ambitions of Kalev gaffed by German coach Frank Bernhardt can really go this year.