Category Archives: WORLD CUP

Van Gaal and the Dutch end on a high


“We can look back at a very successful tournament, I’m proud of my players.” – Louis Van Gaal, Netherlands Coach

The Oranje’s unforeseen successful campaign ended last night with a dominating 3-0 victory over hosts Brazil. At the end of the game, the Brazilian fans loudly greeted the Dutch players after they received the third-place medals, applauding on their feet, while their team, Brazil got booed off.

Van Gaal has done a wonderful job and lead this unfancied Dutch side to a World Cup campaign that saw them undefeated throughout, having only lost to Argentina on penalties in the semis. After finishing second in 2010, the third place is the best position for the Netherlands since their runner-up medals in 1974 and 1978. The Brazilians had records of their own, conceding 14 goals in the tournament, the most ever for the team. In addition, tonight’s defeat was the first time since 1940 that Brazil lost two consecutive competitive games on home soil.

Van Gaal’s men got off to a dream start when Brazil captain Thiago Silva pulled down a sprinting Arjen Robben in the area after just 90 seconds of play. Robin Van Persie superbly converted the spot-kick. Within 16 minutes it was two.

Ajax left-back Daley Blind capitalised on defender David Luiz’s poor headed clearance and Blind had time to set himself up perfectly to fire home. It was another example of schoolboy defending from the Brazilians, which had been horribly unveiled against the Germans on Tuesday.

After some good work from Feyenoord right-back Daryl Janmaat, PSV attacking midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum completed the win in stoppage time.

This was a fitting end to the tenure of Louis van Gaal who now leaves for Manchester United. While Guus Hiddink will now be ready to hop into the Dutch hotseat, ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

For the future of Brazil coach Luis Felipe Scolari and his players is unknown.


BRAZIL: Julio Cesar, Maicon, Maxwell, Luis Gustavo (Fernandinho 46), Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Ramires (Hulk 73), Paulinho (Hernanes 57), Oscar, Willian, Jo.

GOALS: None.

BOOKINGS: Thiago Silva 2, Fernandinho 54, Oscar 68.

NETHERLANDS: Cillessen (Vorm 90+1), Kuyt, Blind (Janmaat 70), De Vrij, Martins Indi, Vlaar, De Guzman, Clasie (Veltman 90), Wijnaldum, Robben, Van Persie.

GOALS: Van Persie 3P, Blind 16, Wijnaldum 90.

BOOKINGS: Robben 9, De Guzman 36.


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Argentina progress as Dutch draw blanks in shootout


Argentina win 4-2 on penalties

In a major contrast to last night’s semi-final, with only two shots on target in the whole game on 90 minutes, this one was hardly the classic that many predicted. It was a tense, cautious affair with both teams to looking not to gift the opposition a chance at goal.

The Dutch played the majority of the game in a 6-3-1 formation and kept themselves disciplined, an obvious attempt to keep Lionel Messi quiet, and it worked a treat. The man of the match was undoubtedly Aston Villa defender Ron Vlaar, especially for his efforts with Messi. Every time Messi looked to weave some magic and create an opening, the big Dutchman was there to slam the door shut, sticking a leg out and clearing the ball. The Barcelona megastar looked frustrated and a bit lost to say the least. It was a tremendous performance throughout for Vlaar, who has had an excellent tournament when many pundits wrote him off before a ball was kicked.

Another star was once again the veteran of the Dutch side, 33-year old Dirk Kuyt. He started the game at right wing-back, then was moved over to the left and for the 120 minutes he ran himself into the ground like a 20-year old would. Another man, who has had an excellent tournament and proved that he could still do a job for one of Europe’s elite teams for his versatility alone.

With 15 minutes of play remaining, Gonzalo Higuaín had an excellent chance. The impressive Enzo Perez found space on the right and bent in a lovely early ball, Higuaín beat the offside trap and got across Stefan De Vrij but stabbed the ball into the side-netting.

The Oranje’s best chance came late on of normal time – Arjen Robben suddenly found himself through on goal, but he took one touch too much and gave Javier Mascherano the chance to get across and make a brilliant block once Robben got the shot off.

Robben's last-ditch chance is snuffed out by Mascherano.

The extra time began with more of the same, neither side willing to open the game up and attack with any get risk. Inside the second half of the additional time, Argentina started to press. Rodrigo Palacio found himself with a golden opportunity, but after Messi played a perfect lofting ball into the area, the Inter striker nodded the ball straight into Jasper Cillessen’s hands. Moments later, Maxi Rodriguez should have done better with a half volley at the back post but failed to connect properly to threaten the Dutch goal.

The star of the game, Vlaar bravely stepped up for the first penalty but smashing down the middle did not work and Sergio Aguero easily stopped. This put immense pressure on Cillessen and in a massive contrast, first up for the Argentine’s was Messi who dispatched his spot kick past the youngster with ease. The penalties continued where Robben scored while Romero pulled off a great save from Sneijder next. Dirk Kuyt needed to score and did, but with the Argentines not missing a penalty Maxi Rodriguez stepped up for number four and blasted past Cillessen, who should have done better.

The Dutch are out, Argentina head to Rio to face Germany on Sunday for all the spoils.


NETHERLANDS: Cillessen, Kuyt, Blind, Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi (Janmaat 46), De Jong (Clasie 62), Wijnaldum, Sneijder, Robben, Van Persie (Huntelaar 96).

GOALS: None.

BOOKINGS: Martins Indi 45, Huntelaar 105.

ARGENTINA: Romero, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo, Biglia, Mascherano, Pérez (Palacio 81), Lavezzi (Rodriguez 101), Messi, Higuaín (Aguero 82).

GOALS: None.

BOOKINGS: Demichelis 49.


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WORLD CUP: Netherlands vs. Argentina Preview

The characteristics of the second semi-final of the 2014 World Cup are eerily similar to that of the first. On one hand, you have a team bouyed by the brilliance of a Barcelona superstar, with an overpowering support due to the geographical location of the tournament, a somewhat suspect defense and plenty of questions left unanswered after the group stage, last 16 and quarter-final matches. On the other hand you have a European team based on systems, formations and tactics, with a rotating cast of characters that are slotted in and taken out to fit requirements, with technical brilliance coming out of their ears.

You don’t get any medals for being able to establish what team falls into what category. Argentina will be relying on the individual brilliance that is Lionel Messi and the possibility of him not showing up, or the more possible eventuality that van Gaal figures out how to close him out of the game, is a scary one for Argentinian fans and players.

The Netherlands will be looking to the sideline and what Louis van Gaal can muster up to defeat their South American opponents. While Arjen Robben has been immense from the first game against Spain, Louis van Gaal has been stealing the spotlight for the entirety of the competition and the signs point towards that happening yet again on the field in Sao Paulo.

While many expected last night to be a war of attrition, it ended up to be the exact opposite but you can expect tonight’s game to be the battle that we have bee waiting for. The longer the game goes without a goal, the likelier it is that a mazy dribble by Messi will decide it.

A lot is riding on the availability of Nigel de Jong and should he be able to play, a man-marking job on Lionel Messi is exactly what can be expected from the A.C Milan midfielder. Louis van Gaal has made it no secret that he has a plan for Lionel Messi and it will be difficult to bet against the Dutch manager, given his ability to develop and coach a fully functional system.

Argentina don’t score many goals on the counter, but they do spend quite a large percentage of time in the attacking third of the field, so it is a matter of van Gaal making sure his defense is structurally solid as opposed to being good in transition. The Dutch have been solid throughout the World Cup and, as stated, if De Jong can play, this will be the deciding of the match.

As for de Jong’s replacement? Daley Blind is a possibility but his lack of pace might be shown up, De Guzman may not have the quality to live with Lionel Messi, Jordy Clasie is a poor tackler and might have to do a lot of it against the little maestro. As the saying goes, only time will tell as to how van Gaal is thinking.

Ron Vlaar is doubtful with a knee injury, but the beauty of van Gaal’s system is that it is similar to a “plug-and-play” device. The fact that Vlaar has been so good is the fact that van Gaal’s philosophy is based on the whole being better than the sum of it’s parts. This injury concern could be just another way for van Gaal to show of his tactical nuance on one of the biggest stages in World Football.

Robin van Persie’s availability is also in question (stomach and intestinal issues) and, if he is available, would be a good bet to score first against the Argentines. He has not scored in the knockout stages and could break the tie open with a goal against a questionably porous Argentinian defense. The Argentinians tend to concede more shots than they might like and a player with Van Persie’s finishing could capitalise on that kind of statistic. Van Persie is the captain of the side and van Gaal’s leader on the field. He has a stomach issue and did not train with the squad on Tuesday.

The Netherlands also like to exploit the wings and, in the absence of Angel di Maria, will certainly create chances from these positions, particularly on the right hand side with Kuyt there to allow Robben the freedom he has enjoyed so much throughout the tournament.

If the Netherlands can get their tactics right, it could end up being another beating for the South Americans, but don’t expect a hammering like last night. A 3-1 victory for the Dutch is, however, possible given their solidity at the back and quality in attack.

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De Jong to return for Van Gaal?

While Louis van Gaal has never needed much of an excuse to tinker with his formations and personnel, we are sure that he would prefer to have a full compliment of players available when he is picking his team heading into their World Cup semi-final against Argentina on Wednesday.

The good news on that front for van Gaal is that Nigel de Jong might have recovered in time from the groin injury that kept him out of the quarter-final clash with Costa Rica – a game that they subsequently won on penalties.

Early in the Netherlands last 16 meeting with Mexico, de Jong went down with a groin injury and the worst was feared. The initial recovery time was two to four weeks and the semi-final will only be 10 days since the original injury, so to say the chances are slim would be an understatement. But the fact that there is even a chance is a testament to the player and his commitment to playing for his country. That initial recovery time would have been enough to rule him out of the entire World Cup but the A.C Milan midfielder said recently that, “We will see, I will do everything in my possibility to start this game as it is only one game to the final.”

Having decided to stay with his teammates for nothing more than moral support, it is believed that his recovery is moving a lot quicker than expected.

The Dutch boss was forced to switch to a 3-4-3 against Costa Rica with two things being taken into consideration. The fact that he didn’t have as many midfield options as he might have liked, and the extra attacker might yield more against weaker opposition.

Georginio Wijnaldum and Wesley Sneijder played in midfield with Memphis Depay starting up front in the modified line-up but against Costa Rica. Against Argentina, however, a player like de Jong will be needed to curb any influence that Lionel Messi might have on the game and will more than likely man-mark him if that is the tactic that Van Gaal chooses to deploy as opposed to a more zonal based defensive setup. Pushing attacking threats deeper and deeper and away from goal is something that Nigel de Jong has carved a career for himself doing.

De Jong, who many feel didn’t paint himself in glory during the 2010 World Cup final with his infamous high tackle on Xabi Alonso, is eager to make it back to the same juncture of the competition with a different outcome this time.

De Jong has had somewhat of a resurgence during the World Cup and is now linked with a move back to England and Manchester, this time to the red half of the city. He played in all three of the Netherlands’ group games and was unlucky to have pulled up so early against Mexico but a possible return against Argentina would defeat all odds.


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Van Gaal explains Krul and Cillessen switch

For any other manager and it would be classed as a bizarre gamble but not Louis van Gaal.

Last night, with the game producing no goals and entering stoppage time at the end of extra time, Van Gaal replaced first choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul. The decision proved to be a tactical master stroke as Krul went on to save spot-kicks from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana to secure the Netherlands a 4-3 penalty shootout victory and a semi-final clash on Wednesday night against Argentina in Sao Paulo.

Van Gaal stated after the match that Cillessen was not aware of the possible substitution because he did not want to “ruin the preparation” of the Ajax stopper.

“Thankfully it worked out because otherwise I’d have made the wrong tactical change.”


Cillessen has made no mistakes for the Dutch so far and even made a decisive last gasp save to prevent the Costa Ricans from snatching the victory last night. However out of the four goals that Cillessen has conceded in the tournament, two of which have been penalty kicks. After weighing up this and Newcastle’s Tim Krul impressing at the training camp, the Manchester United manager made the huge decision to exchange them with seconds of  extra-time remaining.

Proud of his actions, the Oranje coach said: “We found that among our three goalkeepers that Krul was the best at saving penalties because he has a longer reach. So we studied the Costa Rican penalties and you can see that Krul guessed the right way every time. I am really pleased that the decision paid off.”

Although, for the first time this tournament, we did see some unrest in the Dutch camp with the substitution decision. Once taken off, many witnessed Cillessen booting water bottles on the touchline and had to be consoled by team-mates. Watching from the sideline, it did not take long for Cillessen to get over his disappointment of being substituted as raced on the pitch and punched the air in celebration once Krul has performed his heroics.

The decision was a huge risk but the more intimidating Krul seemed to upset the Costa Ricans before each penalty was taken. In a true example of gamesmanship, the Newcastle keeper would talk to each player before they lined up their shot, and proceeded to jump up and down on the line to make himself fill out the goalmouth.

It worked a treat as Krul looked super confident during the shootout, saving the second and fifth penalties. Afterwards, Krul stated that is he was delighted with his role.

Krul, talking to De Telegraaf, stated “Tonight I have realised a dream and what I experienced out there is an incredible emotion. The coach had warned me it may happen and I was fully prepared, as I knew that I may have had this opportunity.”

Van Gaal has announced, although he was thrilled with Krul’s shootout performance, Cillessen would keep his place in the starting line-up. “There is no question about who will start next game, it will be Cillessen.”


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Van Gaal’s gamble is Krul on Costa Rica


Netherlands win 4-3 on penalties

Keylor Navas was the star of the show, making a string of saves keeping the Dutch at bay in a groundhog day type match for the Oranje. However, Tim Krul proved to steal the headlines after another ballsy move from Louis van Gaal paid off, and the Dutch will face Argentina next Wednesday in the semi-finals.

With a versatile squad at his disposal, Louis van Gaal again rang the changes as Oranje lined up to play the Costa Ricans tonight. We saw the return of Bruno Martins Indi for the first time since suffering a concussion against Australia in the group stages. Young PSV prodigy Memphis Depay joined the starting line-up as Dirk Kuyt moved into right-wing back with Daley Blind sitting on the left.

Although the Dutch enjoyed the majority of the possession early on, they failed to break down the hard-working Costa Rica. Jorge Luis Pinto noticed this and made a tweak, pushing Joel Campbell out to the right to use his pace in defence and stop the Dutch attacks down that side as team captain Bryan Ruiz, trudges over to the centre.

We had to wait until 22 minutes of play to see the first real chance, and it was a lovely move from Van Gaal’s men. Kuyt received the ball high up on the right wing and subsequently slotted in Depay on the edge of the area. The PSV winger unselfishly laid the ball into Robin van Persie who blasted towards goal. One of the contender for ‘Goalkeeper of the Tournament’ Keylor Navas, parried the shot away into the path of Wesley Sneijder, who drove a low shot which the Costa Rican stopper again halted from entering the net.

Just before the half-hour mark, the in-form Navas was called into action again. Bryan Ruiz was forced into a mistake by Stefan de Vrij and in turn lost to the ball to Van Persie. The Manchester United striker surged forward and dished out to a sprinting Depay cutting in from the left. Unfortunately for youngster, his early low drive at goal was stopped by the Levante keeper’s feet.

Navas has a release clause in his contract of €8m and has been linked with Monaco, Atletico Madrid among others and once again was denying Holland on 38 minutes. After Junior Diaz have picked up a booking for pulling back Arjen Robben, Sneijder took the resulting free-kick from around 30 yards out. The Galatasaray man hit the shot perfectly but the agile Navas leapt across the goal to palm in it out for a corner, and made sure that the sides went into half-time goal less.

After a cautious beginning to the second-half, the Costa Ricans started to get into the game. Always looking good from set-pieces, Costa Rica had a great chance to take the lead just after the hour mark. Giancarlo González headed over a wonderful whipping deep ball from a Christian Bolaños free-kick. In a similar move ten minutes later, Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar nodded over a Wesley Sneijder cross at the opposite end.

The Costa Ricans were frustrating Van Gaal’s men and trying to counter attack when they could and Holland lacked urgency needed for a World Cup quarter final. The Dutch were finding it harder and harder as the clock ran down to break open the Navas’ defence. Navas was finally beaten on 83 minutes but he was saved by the post. After Gonzalez tugged on Robben’s shirt on the edge of the box, Sneijder’s resultant free-kick smashed off the post.

Around half a minute later, Navas stopped a great Van Persie effort to send the neutrals inside the jam-packed Arena Fonte Nova into raptures, cheering on every save the Levante man made.

With a few minutes to go, in an unusual moment, Van Persie miss kicked an excellent ball from Sneijder to flabbergast the crowd. The ball was put on a plate for the Man United forward just two yards out, it was a poor miss for a man of his quality.

After that shock, the fans were left in more disbelief deep into stoppage time. After a RVP free-kick was comfortably punched away by Navas, the ball fell to Daley Blind on the left wing. He fired a low ball across the front of goal which everyone missed but fell perfectly for Van Persie again at the back post. Van Persie blasted a shot at goal and somehow it was flicked up onto the bar by Yeltsin Tejeda.

Usual play resumed once extra time began as Navas saved a Ron Vlaar power header at goal from a corner. Minutes later, the underdogs had a weak penalty shout as Marco Ureña was protesting that Vlaar had fouled him in the area, however, Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov waved away appeals.

After Sneijder rattled the crossbar, the clock wore down and the inevitable was happening, the dreaded penalty shootout. With this in mind, Van Gaal then pulled a massive call out of the bag as the new Manchester United boss as subbed goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for Newcastle United’s Tim Krul in the final moments of extra time.

There was a reason why…

Krul guessed the right way for every penalty and saved Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umaña’s efforts as Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder and Kuyt dispatched their shots to clinch the semi-final slot.

It was a massive move by Van Gaal and our English readers better get used to it. Van Gaal is going to be the new Manchester United manager and he does not care who he upsets to get the success he so dearly wants. Every gamble this World Cup has come off so far, he’s on a roll.


NETHERLANDS: Cillessen (Krul 120), De Vrij, Vlaar, Martins Indi (Huntelaar 106), Kuyt, Blind, Wijnaldum, Sneijder, Depay (Lens 76), Van Persie, Robben.

GOALS: None.

BOOKINGS: Martins Indi 64, Huntelaar 110.

COSTA RICA: Navas, Acosta, Gonzalez, Umana, Borges, Bolanos, Diaz, Gamboa (Myrie 79), Tejeda (Cubero 97), Ruiz, Campbell (Ureña 66).

GOALS: None.

BOOKINGS: Diaz 38, Umana 52, Gonzalez 81.


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WORLD CUP: Oranje held by Estonia

ESTONIA 2 (Vassiljev 18, 57)

NETHERLANDS 2 (Robben 2, Van Persie 90+4 P)

It was an uncharacteristic performance from Louis van Gaal’s boys, as they rescued their unbeaten record in World Cup qualifying with an injury-time penalty kick to secure a 2-2 draw with underdogs Estonia.

Amkar Perm attacking midfielder Konstantin Vassiljev struck twice for the home side and looked to have sealed a memorable victory for the Estonians. However, the Dutch have previously won all six of their matches in Group D of the UEFA qualification section, but they had to rely on a controversial Robin van Persie penalty to gain a point.

Dangerman Arjen Robben broke the deadlock with his 19th goal for his country. The Bayern Munich winger curled his effort beyond the reach of goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko from inside the penalty area.

The Oranje lead only lasted 15 minutes as Vassiljev broke through a weak challenge 25 yards from goal and sent a low shot past Swansea ‘keeper Michel Vorm. The Estonian then doubled his and his teams tally with a cute lob just before the hour, as he met a perfect through ball from Joel Lindpere and lifted the ball over Vorm.

However, Manchester United hitman Robin van Persie broke Estonian hearts after winning a penalty from what appeared to be a good challenge from Raio Piiroja. The defender received a second yellow card and RVP converted the spot kick.

Tuesday sees Van Gaal’s side to have the chance to redeem themselves against Andorra, and the Dutch fans will be expecting a much improved performance.



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Before clashing on the 6th of September for the WC2014 qualification campaign, Netherlands and Estonia had already squared up in the A.LeCoq Arena 12 years ago. It’s a game that all Estonian football fans have had carved in their memories notwithstanding the final result was favorable to the visitors.


ESTONIA 2-4 NETHERLANDS (WCQ – 2nd June 2001 – A.LeCoq Arena)

First of all, it was the very first game that the Estonian national team played at the newly built stadium.

Secondly, Estonia managed to hold on a goalless draw the Dutch side for more than a hour.

Let’s remind some of those who were playing in the Dutch side: Van der Saar, Frank de Boer, Reiziger, Cocu, Hasselbaink, Kluivert and, last but not least, Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

However, this was nothing yet compared to what happened at 64’.

Estonia steals possession from the Dutch in midfield; the ball is brought back into defence; a vertical pass is sent Marko Kristal: the nr.10 sees nr.9, striker Andres Oper, attacking the space with his speed and serves him deep with one touch. The Dutch rearguard is suprised by the quick unexpected verticalization: Oper avoids one opponent, then resists to Mario Melchiot trying to disturb him; Oper is already in the box when he slams it past Van der Saar: 1-0 for Estonia!

The entire Lilleküla audience is standing up celebrating the goal: madness brings one Estonian fan to invade the pitch to reach the bunch of Estonian footballers however he’s promptly stopped by the stewards. The new stadium doesn’t have any kind of fences yet.

The Dutch players are incredulous at what just happened: they are one down with less than half an hour to go against Estonia, a football minnow.

Notwithstanding the embarassment, they will manage to pull themselves together and equalize four minutes later with Captain Frank De Boer firing a rocket at Martin Kaalma’s goal. The poweful shot is deflected by the then young defender Raio Piiroja. 1-1

However, it happens again.

76’, Kristal works out a long ball for Oper on the right flank. Oper has a lot of space to run in to catch it. When he latches onto it, Melchiot is standing on his way at the edge of the box. The nr.11 takes a look at what’s going on inside the box and sends it in on the front post where Zelinski is quicker and anticipates the Dutch defender: 2-1!

Fifteen minutes to go and Estonia is leading again!

This time it will last longer, seven minutes, as Van Nistelrooy (who subbed Hasselbaink earlier) will make it even again with a poacher’s goal.

The rest is known: in the remaining time (eight minutes plus added time) Van Nistelrooy and Kluivert will sign the Dutch comeback for a 2-4 final score.


After that, Estonia haven’t managed to score against the Orange, let alone to take the lead of the game: 5-0 the return game in September 2001 and 3-0 the game last Spring in Amsterdam.

Out of that Estonian team only Andres Oper and Raio Piiroja are still active, with the latter being the captain and Oper the Estonian international topscorer of all times.

Kristal and Zelinski have both retired and they work together as coach and assistant coach at FC Levadia Talinn (Estonia’s second most-titled club) currently top of the Estonian top-flight table.

The back then coach of Estonia was a Dutchman: Arnoldus ’Arno’ Pijpers, 42 games as Estonian coach in 5 years (2000-2005), now coach at a club in Kazakhstan (FK Taraz) after working for many years within the Estonian FA to develop the youth system.

Van Gaal will be back for the second time in Lilleküla stadium: will he have a deja vu of that crazy ’white night’?



Coach Tarmo Rüütli has picked up 24 men ahead of the clash with Van Gaal side.

The squad is made up mostly by footballers playing abroad with the only exceptions represented by Dmitri Kruglov, a left full-back who recently returned to Estonia (at Levadia) after a contract terminated in Russia (FC Rostov); Estonian Champion (with club Nõmme Kalju) right full-back Tihhon Śiśov and finally the midfielders Alexander Dmitrijev (Levadia Tallinn) and Martin Vunk (Sillamäe Kalev).

Defender Ragnar Klavan, is the only one playing in a European top league as he’s at his second stint with FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga.

Two of the 24 don’t play in Europe: Captain Raio Piiroja has signed this year for Chinese club Chengdu Blades and Joel Lindpere is earning a living at Chicago Fire in the MLS (he was at New York Red Bulls with Thierry Henry before moving to Michigan State).

Oper was not called up due to an injury to his shoulder he picked up in…a taxi: ’We were sitting with a friend in a taxi – recalls the record topscorer about the accident occurred in June – when suddenly a bus drove into us! I don’t know why it happened, maybe brakes didn’t work. Initially I just felt something weird with my shoulder, but nothing else. Later on it was more and more painful. The doctor suggested to do some x-ray: it was clear I had to go into surgery.’

With Oper ruled-out, the top-scorer available for Rüütli is midfielder Kostantin ’Kostja’ Vassiljev (15 times netting with ’sinisärk’, the blue jersey), a regular at FK Amkar Perm, Russia.

Vassiljev was the great protagonist of the enthusing ride that brought Estonia to EC2012 play-offs lost to Ireland in November 2011, the highest tip reached by the Baltic country in football.

Rising stars of the national team are the forwards Henrik Ojamaa (11 caps 0 goals, a regular at Legia Warsaw, Poland) and Henri Anier (8 caps 3 goals, recently signed by Motherwell following Ojamaa himself who spent great words for his teammate to be signed by the Scottish club).

After the successful EC2012 campaign, Tarmo Rüütli had to go thru barren times as many protagonists of his typical XI went thru injuries (Piiroja, Vassiljev, Zenjov) and still injuries are affecting his choices: Morozov, replacing the injured Piiroja as centre-back, has picked up a serious rupture of collateral ligaments (3 months out); the right flanker and midfield jolly, Sander Puri, tore an hamstring few weeks ago in an English League Two game with his side, York City FC; Tihhon Śiśov injured his ankle ligaments two days before the Europa League play-offs on board of Kalju; Piiroja himself has just returned to play. Except Morozov, the others have all been called up as Rüütli hopes to recover some of them, with Puri having the best chances of making it compared to the others.

In the last game with Latvia on the 14th of August, Rüütli fielded the following XI (substitutions in grey)


Among Ojamaa and Anier, according to Estonian press, Rüütli should, at the moment, favour the latter however he never disclosed his real intentions. Truth is also that he might entrust the most experienced Zenjov as a starter. The idea of presenting a solid and experienced XI might also extend to the other lines: Kruglov might be played at left full-back in place of Teniste (as he can cover both roles on the left side) and Lindpere be given a starter on the left flank. Ahjupera is not technically endowed, however his physical qualities (196cm) make him the classical ‘tower’ helping the team to come up and opening spaces for the second striker. Kink is ready to replace Puri on the right flank. If no other injury will come on the way, this should be the most probable line-up.



1. The president of the Estonian FA is Mr.Aivar Pohlak. A former writer of books for children, maths and Estonian language and literature teacher, he is the ’founding father’ of modern Estonian football. Controversially, he is also the chairman of club FC Flora which has risen more than an eyebrow for the evident conflict of interests. Try google his name and you will discover his special outfit. He is also a referee of football and recently officiated a national cup game with his daughter and son-in-law as linemen and for the home team he used to play with when he was younger (FC Kuressaare).

2. Arno Piipers is not the only Dutch related to Estonian football. After him, and just before Tarmo Rüütli, another Netherlands son has been sitting on the Estonian bench: Jelle Goes, he had 13 matches as Estonian coach collecting only 2 wins and 1 draw. Today he is offspring manager at Anzhi Makachkala.

3. Other foreign coaches of Estonia have been 3 Hungarians (between the two wars) an Austrian (1930) an Icenlander (1996-1999) and a Danish (caretaker for just 8 games in 2007 before Rüütli was appointed).

4. On club level, there are strong ties between Vitesse Arnhem and FC Flora. Many players have been coming and going from one club to the other (including Raio Piiroja, 2 apppearances with Arnhem’s club). At the moment the goalkeeper Marko Meerits (grown at Flora and sold to Vitesse) has returned to Holland after a loan period back to Flora. In Flora plays the young talent Sander Van de Streek on loan from Vitesse.

5. The previous name of ’A.LeCoq Arena’, Lilleküla, comes from the area where the stadium was built which in Estonian means ’flower village’. The stadium is set between two arms of railways, one south-bound and the other east-bound. The capacity is 9,300 which can be brought to over 10,000 by adding removable stands at each bottom.

6. Ragnar Klavan has set the unbeatable record of being the first Estonian footballer to have played in the Champions League during his stint at AZ Alkmaar. It happened on the 29th of September 2009 when he came in as a substitute in Group H game against Standard Liege. It was the 2009-10 Champions League season, the one that ended up bitterly for Van Gaal in Madrid as he lost to Mourinho’s Internazionale. Just the previous season, the Dutch gaffer was Eredivisie Champion with Alkmaar before Klavan joined the club.

7. Before moving to A.LeCoq Arena, the Estonia national team home was the old stadium of the Kadriorg, the city park. Tallinn has another big stadium, Kalev Staadion, home of the oldest Estonian club: JK Tallinna Kalev. The facility is also home to folk dance festivals and Sunday flea markets during the Summer.

8. The most capped Estonian international is Martin Reim, 157 caps including the game in Lilleküla in 2001. The only active players of the top 10 of the most capped are: Andres Oper (133), Raio Piiroja (111) and Enar Jääger (95). Martin Reim is the present-day U21 coach.

9. Thanks to their successful EC2012 campaign, Estonia reached the record-breaking position of 47th in the FIFA nations ranking. 4 years earlier (2008) they were at 137th. At the moment they are 85th, ahead of the other two Baltic states (Lithuania 106, Latvia 119)

10. Estonia participated into their first UEFA/FIFA final tournament last year when they were awarded as host of the U19 EC which was won by Spain. The Estonian U19 squad didn’t make it past the group stage.


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Angelo Palmeri covers Estonian Football in English at ‘Rumori di Spogliatoio