FC Santos were unable to take one final step in their remarkable cup run as they were beaten 4-0 by Levadia in the final at A Le. Coq Arena.
The third tier side’s appearance had already guaranteed them a historic place in European competition, and they were by no means disgraced, despite the convincing scoreline.
The Tartu-based side resisted the urge to park the bus and opted for a 4-4-2 formation to match their opposition. Yuri Vereschak partnered Alar Alve up front, with Mikk Laas and Marko Sonn providing support from the wings. Time Teniste and Taavi Vellemaa patrolled the centre of the park, while the defensive foursome was made up by Yuriy Flyak, Eero Eessaar, Siim Valtna and Siim Roops.
Levadia fielded a strong side in order to avoid a potential banana skin against lower league opposition. Ingemar Teever and Vladislav Ivanov provided the firepower up front, supported by Omar Elhussieny and Igor Subbotin, as they looked to overpower Santos in the positional battles. Aleksandr Kulinits was given the nod at right back, with Marek Kaljumae starting in the centre of midfield alongside Ilja Antonov.
The match kicked off in glorious sunshine, with Santos showing plenty of spirit. Their focus looked to be towards the wings and they refused to take the easy option of lumping the ball upfield towards the strikers, preferring a neat, passing approach.
Mikk Laas looked lively on the left-hand side, linking up well with the strikers, but for all of their early competitiveness, it was Levadia who took the lead after just 10 minutes.
Following a blazed effort minutes earlier by Subbotin, Ingemar Teever got ahead of his defender to meet a cross from the right, with the ball breaking kindly to Ivanov. He had time to slam his shot inside the near post to give his side an expected lead. Despite the lack of efforts on goal, Santos had started brightly and to concede so early might have been cause for their heads to drop.
Levadia indeed began to control the game following the opener, but Santos managed their first real attempt at goal two minutes later. Vellemaa fed Vereschak on the edge of the box, but his low drive was well saved by Smishko.
60 seconds later, a free kick for Levadia just outside the box was curled over the wall by Artjunin, but Saesk was down low to his right to keep it out.
An excellent chance for Santos came in the 17th minute, as a 1-2 between Vereschak and Teniste saw the ball played in behind the Levadia defence, but Vereschak’s hesitation in anticipating the speed of the ball saw him unable to keep the ball from rolling out for a goal kick.
A couple of efforts from outside the box followed for Levadia, with Elhussieny and Antonov both testing the goalkeeper, as Santos momentarily lost their fluidity. However, another opportunity for the underdogs wasn’t far away, as a ball in from the left by Flyak was left by everyone in the box, before bouncing awkwardly to Alve, who couldn’t quite get it under control for a shot.
Santos were supporting each other well on the counter attack, often switching to 3-5-2, but their final passes were costing them dearly, with several over-hit balls failing to find their targets. Defensively, they were pressing Levadia extremely well, not allowing them much time on the ball and restricting them to long range efforts.
Fate can be a fickle enemy, however, and after 29 minutes Levadia struck again.
A simple low cross from the left by Pikk was met by Teever, who slotted home at the near post. Levadia were two up and Santos had been clinically undone.
Teever saw a header saved by the goalkeeper minutes later as Levadia began to open Santos up a little more with some good direct through balls.
A flicked header at goal from Santos’ Roops failed to trouble Smishko, but their constant endeavour was endearing them to the crowd, who were giving them fantastic vocal support.
Levadia had a good chance to make it three before the break, as Subbotin dragged a shot wide of the far post after good work by Teever. Santos then had the first half’s final chance as Sonn struck a bouncing shot straight at Smishko once more.
Levadia made a change at the break with Heiko Tamm replacing Teever.
Not to be dismissed just yet, Santos came out of the traps quickly in the second half. A golden opportunity was presented to them as Sonn’s cross from the right was missed by Podholjuzin, presenting Vereschak with a sight at goal. Unfortunately for the striker, his shot lacked any real power and was easily collected by the goalkeeper.
Both sides then made a change, with Raudsepp replacing Kulinits for Levadia, and Laurson replacing Laas for Santos.
The underdogs continued to create a nuisance of themselves, with Alve’s runs into the box being particularly menacing, but Levadia managed to keep Santos at bay as the second half wore on.
A couple of pot shots came and went for Levadia before Ivanov struck a post with a low, bobbling shot. They replaced Teever with Marin on 70 minutes and then put the game firmly to bed ten minutes later.
Pikk beat Roops down the left hand side, and his cross into the box wasn’t cleared by the Santos defence, allowing Tamm the time to turn and smash his shot high into the roof of the net. It was harsh on Santos, but in reality Levadia had had them under reasonable control all afternoon.
Elhussieny and Ivanov both had chances to make it four before Ivanov grabbed his second goal of the match to finish the match off. Pikk’s low cross from the left hand side found Ivanov a couple of yards out, and his task of slotting home was taken with ease.
Levadia did what was expected of them and were relatively comfortable throughout the match. Santos should be proud of their efforts and of their approach, which saw them try to attack Levadia in contrast to a defensive setup one might have expected.
Levadia’s attention moves back to league action now, but for Santos a European adventure awaits them in the summer.