With the World Cup going, the topic ‘national team’ it is quite hot in columns and web medias.
The wonders of the World Cup in Brazil have brought us surprise packages as England, Italy and Spain kicked out at the first round and countries with smaller appeal (Costa Rica, Greece and Messico) ahead in the round of sixteen.
Estonian national team is on the usual Summer break before resuming business in September when the ‘siilid’ (hedgehogs, to use the new nickname following the rebranding of the A-team) will take on Ibrahimovic’s Sweden for a friendly game (4th of September).
It will be a warm-up game before hosting Slovenia for Euro 2016 qualifiers kick-off (8th of September)
At the end of the 10-day period of trainings and five among friendly games and Baltic Cup challenges (1 win, 2 draws and 2 losses the tally) we can draw a line of the work done and its implication with the domestic league that we cover weekly.
Contrary to the recent past, there have been more players belonging to the Premium Liiga clubs receiving a call-up for the national team games.
Either already internationals in the past, or at their debut.
Let’s have a look club by club according to the current Premium Liiga table and considering that Magnus Pehrsson picked up only among the table’s top3:
Flora (4 players): Taavi Rähn (CD), Karol Mets (CD), Sander Post and Albert Prosa (FW).
Levadia (4): Ilja Antonov (MF), Artjom Artjiunin (CD), Artur Pikk (LB), Igor Subbotin (RM).
Nõmme Kalju (4): Alo Bärengrub (CD), Ken Kallaste (LB), Tihhon Śiśov (RB), Martin Vunk (MF), .
In total 12 players: 4 CD, 2 LB, 1 RB, 2 MF, 1 RM and 2 FW.
If Rähn (74 caps), Vunk (63), Bärengrub (45), Śiśov (42) and partially Post (12) can be considered ‘veterans’, the other are still at their first appearances: Ken Kallaste reached 8 caps, Mets and Antonov 7, Prosa 4, Artjunin 3, Pikk and Subbotin made their debut (as Levadia Podholjuzin did in March in Gibraltar).
Some of these players are among the top10 performers of the Premium Liiga current season per each role.
Pehrsson has been picking up among the best acts of the domestic league in order to find adequate replacements for the regular international players that have featured in the starting XI in recent years.
It is a necessary choice considering injuries and ageing of most of the internationals.
It was no surprise to spot the Swedish coach at the domestic fixtures (the big clashes at least) as the 38-year-old coach was trying first to figure out what is the level of domestic football and then understand whether some of the best prospects could have featured in his call-ups apart from the known faces who returned to Estonia (Rähn, Reintam) or were already back since last season (Vunk).
His scouting work ended with the last friendly game against Tadjikistan (7th of June) when Estonia had an epic comeback in the injury time to win 2-1 over the Asians.
What were the conclusions?
Pehrsson clearly stated that, besides the tally of the 5-game campaign, some individuals favourably impressed him and he had more clear ideas for September, when the games will matter 3 points.
Among those, Karol Mets, Ilja Antonov and Ken Kallaste will certainly be seen again at A.LeCoq Arena and in the away games.
We could still debate whether the choice to call Karol Mets (a central defender) and employ him as a defensive midfielder makes sense or not, however one thing is certain: Pehrsson has clearly shown that he takes into consideration Premium Liiga players and therefore the domestic league can work as a supplier of talents/players for the national team.
It is a decision consistent with the Estonian FA policy to invest in the domestic league improvement, both at image and quality level (opening a covered facility in Lilleküla complex was the clear sign to give better training conditions to the domestic players in the harshness of winter preparation).
On the example of Mets, Antonov and Kallaste, others can be motivated to perform well in the domestic league with the hope of being noticed and called for the national team games. The virtuous mechanism might help itself to improve the quality of the game within the Premium Liiga.
Obviously, another key-role is played by the competitiveness of the Premium Liiga.
This year, with the difficulties shown by Kalev, Tammeka and Lokomotiv, we can hardly talk about a more competitive domestic league than last season. Probably, for the competitiveness’ sake itself, it will be necessary to take a step back and bring back the league to 8 clubs, as it was before the enlargement (2005).
Sticking to what Premium Liiga can offer now, there are certainly more players that could be given a try with the ‘sinisärk’ (the blue jersey) especially in roles where the national team does not seem to have much of a replacement.
Let’s have a look club by club without avoiding to include also sides outside the top3.
In the quest for a natural trequartista or midfield maestro that could be Kostja Vassiljev’s replacement, the most-titled Estonian club cannot help much. In fact, in the 4-2-3-1 fielded by Hurt, Georgian talent, Zaxara Beglarishvili, occupies the place.
However, the young band offers a couple of interesting prospects that could certainly deserve a call-up eventually and in case of need.
We are talking about Rauno Alliku (already two caps with the ‘A-koondis’) and Maksim Gussev, respectively right and left flanker in the all-forward formation that is leading the Premium Liiga table two points clear of Levadia and Kalju. The latter, already in U-21 environment, could represent even a better alternative on the left flank compared to Levadia’s Ilja Antonov, adapted in that position but naturally a central midfielder.
With Marko Kristal fielding a 4-4-2, the trequartista role is not featured.
The only name that could be suggested for a call-up it is Artur Rättel, the U-21 striker. However, the long injury will sideline him for a while also from the national team coach consideration. A real pity.
Notwithstanding his age, Vitali Teleś, Kalju’s captain and goalkeeper, has been performing on a very good level. Probably Pehrsson has enough options among Pareiko (Volga Novgorod, Russia), Ahksalu (SJK, Finland), Meerits (without a club) and Londak (Bodo Glimt, Norway) however, if shall be necessary, Vitali could be a safe bet for the national team sticks.
If he will get enough trust and playing time from Igor Prins, Karl Mööl could show his talent which can also be employed in the trequartista position (at the moment firmly held by Japanese Hidetoshi Wakui) as seen last season in FC Kuressaare.
We dare looking beyond the top three and check the fourth strongest side of the Premium Liiga, Eastern Estonia powerhouse, Sillamäe Kalev.
Here there is a nr.10 who has been performing quite well and he is behind Sillamäe’s achievements this season: Daniil Ratnikov.
If Premium Liiga offers little in terms of local trequartistas, Daniil is probably the best possible example. Quick-paced, good shot both on the run and from set-pieces, the 26-year-old pint-sized attacking midfielder could really represent a good option to replace Konstantin Vassilijev when needed. Looking at the other clubs, there are no similar players in this role. Only concern, his behaviour on the pitch as often prone to be booked for silly reactions or fouls.
The Infonet academy features plenty of talents. If not for the immediate future, Tallinn’s fourth club could provide the national team with brand new talents in a couple of years. From the goalkeeper, Matvei Igonen, till the striker Eduard Golovljov, there are other few names that could enter the list of call-ups and those include left back Trevor Elhi and right flanker Maksim Lipin.
The lower we go in the table, the harder to find prospects that could be useful for the national team cause.
However, a few, could be named and these are those who have showed the best things among the drop-zone sides: Stanislav Goldberg (MF) and Sander Rõivassepp (RM) from Paide Linnameeskond; Siim Tenno (MF) and Vladislav Fjodorov (AM) from Narva Trans; Alexei Belov (FW) from Kalev; Jürgen Lorenz (CD), Martin Jõgi (AM, currently injured) and Reio Laabus (MF) from Tammeka.