Ireland will seek to end
Estonia's fairytale run when they meet in the Euro 2012 play-offs
with the first leg in Tallin on Friday.
Estonia, who have never reached the finals of a major
tournament, won their last three qualifiers to snatch second
place in Group C ahead of Serbia.
Two of those victories came against Northern Ireland but
their neighbours from the Republic are unlikely to be as
generous. Under manager Giovanni Trapattoni, the Irish have
eschewed free-flowing football for a more disciplined defensive
Their pragmatic style of play won them few fans, but it was
enough to secure runners-up spot behind Russia in Group B.
Whereas once the Irish could draw on a pool of players with
top English sides, those days are long gone and assistant coach
Marco Tardelli believes Euro 2012 represents a great chance for
them to get back in the shop window.
"It's the match of their life for many players," Tardelli
"If a player plays in the championship and maybe he plays
well at the European Championships, it's possible to sign a new
contract or play in the Premier League or in another country."
For the Estonians, even getting this far is something of a
dream come true.
"When I was a child, I didn't have a country to dream of,"
former international Martin Reim said in an interview this week.
Now manager at Flora Tallinn, he won 157 caps after his
country's FA was reconstituted following the fall of communism
in 1991, and is the most-capped player never to appear at a
With Shane Long injured and Kevin Doyle suspended following
his red card in the final qualifier at home to Armenia, Ireland
will be looking to record international goal-scorer Robbie
Keane, who has scored 51 times for his country, to lead the way.
The much-travelled Keane recently joined David Beckham when
he moved to LA Galaxy from Tottenham Hotspur and netted within
21 minutes of making his debut against the San Jose Earthquakes.
The last time the Irish found themselves in a play-off it was
against France as they sought to qualify for the 2010 World Cup
in South Africa.
Keane netted away to France in the second leg, only to see
Thierry Henry handle the ball to set William Gallas up to score
and send the French to the finals.
Facing him will be an experienced Estonian defence. They may
not play in Europe's top leagues, but the Estonians can boast
experienced internationals like Raio Piiroja (107 caps).
On the plus side for the Irish, the Estonians failed to keep
a clean sheet in any of their 10 qualifying matches, with even
the Faroe Islands - managed at the time by former Ireland
manager Brian Kerr - getting on the score-sheet against them.
This is the sixth time the Republic have been involved in a
play-off to qualify for a major tournament and they have lost all
but one of the previous five. This tie, however, marks the first
time that they will play the second leg at home.
Trappatoni's men will look to get out of Tallinn with a
clean sheet and an away goal at the very least to bring back to
Dublin for the return leg next Tuesday.
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