Ecstatic Estonia bask in Euro 2012 feat

Updated: 12 October 2011 15:45 IST

Minnows Estonia were ecstatic on Wednesday after taking a step closer to an unprecedented European Championships berth as qualification rivals Serbia stumbled.

Ecstatic Estonia bask in Euro 2012 feat

Tallinn, Estonia:

Minnows Estonia were ecstatic on Wednesday after taking a step closer to an unprecedented European Championships berth as qualification rivals Serbia stumbled.

"Super! Unbelievable! Historic!" headlined the daily Eesti Paevaleht, after the unheralded Baltic nation won a slot in the Euro 2012 playoffs due to Serbia's 1-0 defeat by Slovenia late on Tuesday.

Manager Tarmo Ruutli's men have now ventured further in a major international competition than any other team from the nation of 1.3 million.

"For such a small nation like Estonia to reach the playoffs is something very special," Estonian football association spokesman Mihkel Uiboleht told AFP.

After last Friday's come-from-behind 2-1 result away to Northern Ireland, Estonia overtook Serbia to move into second spot in Group C behind already-qualified Italy.

But with the Serbs having a game in hand it was a nervous wait for Estonia.

They took to home turf in Tallinn on Tuesday for a friendly with Ukraine, co-hosts of Euro 2012 along with Poland.

That game ended 2-0 in the visitors' favour, but with the final whistle only minutes before kick off in Slovenia, home players and fans stayed on in their capital's A. Le Coq Arena to watch their rivals' match on a big screen.

"We were so nervous all the time," said Uiboleht. "Everybody was struggling to fight back tears because it was a very historic moment."

After June's shock 2-0 away loss to the Faroe Islands -- the weakest team in the group -- Estonia looked to have blown their chances.

"The men mobilised themselves very strongly after that," ex-international turned Estonia goalkeeping coach Mart Poom told the daily Postimees.

The Blueshirts turned the tables, winning their final three group matches, with two of the victories away, including the wrap-up game against Northern Ireland.

The draw for next month's playoffs takes place on Thursday in the Polish city of Krakow.

Besides Estonia, the other nations in the pot are Bosnia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Montenegro, Portugal and Turkey.

Estonia are unfazed.

"Obviously we have no pressure going into the playoffs. Our whole qualification process has been a success no matter what happens in November," said Uiboleht.

After lying as low as 137th in football governing body FIFA's rankings in 2008, Estonia currently stand at an all-time high of 58.

FIFA classed them as best mover of September 2011 as they jumped 28 notches.

In March they achieved arguably their biggest ever result, beating 2010 World Cup semifinalists Uruguay 2-0 in Tallinn.

Estonia only returned to international football in 1992 after the end of five decades of Soviet rule.

The game is the poor relation in a nation where cross-country skiers have long been the big-name stars.

Topics : Football Euro 2012 Philippe Mexes Franck Ribery Gianluigi Buffon Yoann Gourcuff Uruguay
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