Joy, relief, excitement, disbelief, these were the prominent emotions reverberating around FAI offices and the country, as Ireland were drawn against Estonia for the Euro 2012 playoffs.
John Delaney and his FAI cohorts could little have imagined such a stroke of luck before arriving at the Sheraton Hotel in Krakow, Poland, yesterday. But was Delaney’s wry smile and obvious chuckle, not just a little uncouth but also very premature?
Estonia, a little known Eastern European nation, most famed for its cross country skiers, only gained independence from the clutches of the Soviet Union in 1991 having endured over 50 years of repression.
Admittedly, their football pedigree is more pedigree chump than chum, but results of late have shown a different side to a supposed minnow of European football.
In garnering two victories, home and away, against Northern Ireland and in defeating both the might of Serbia and Slovenia away from home, Estonia have proven themselves a side to be reckoned with.
A loss to Brian Kerr’s Faroe Islanders, whilst embarrassing, should not overshadow the obvious ability and endeavour this side has continuously showcased throughout the campaign.
Trapattoni, the ultimate conservative, has already issued his mandatory warning speech “We should not underestimate our opposition, or any team, including Estonia.”
“To have made it through to the play-off, they must have quality and mental fortitude” he said.
The Italian is well aware of the pitfalls that have put paid to many an Irish qualification ambition in the past, Ireland have lost five of their six previous play off encounters, and sounding an early warning siren will do much to focus Irish minds.
Those who enjoy a nostalgic look back at good times past will point to Ireland’s domination of Estonia during their successful 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign. Ireland came away with easy 2-0 victories in both of those ties and the nation will be hoping that this edition of the Irish team can repeat the feat and qualify for Euro 2012.
A sense of sporting achievement is not all qualification for the European Championships would bring to the country and the Irish people. Harking back to 2002, and in better times, Ireland’s run to the second round of the World Cup in Japan and South Korea was greeted with great excitement.
A nation of schoolchildren watching events unfold in their P.E. halls, a workforce laid low by the contagious ‘football bug’ and the general sense of a country on standby when the boys in green took to the pitch.
This time around, a run at Euro 2012 would do much more, in boosting the morale of a nation and a people in economic turmoil. John Aldridge a name synonymous with USA ’94, believes Ireland will have too much for their Estonian counterparts “We travel better than we play at home, we’ve had better results away than we have had at home.”
“They will try to get a clean sheet, try to get a win which would set us up nicely.”
Ireland are favourites and if they do themselves justice they will be on the plane to Poland and the Ukraine.
The greatest of sedatives to any lingering complacency should be this, Estonia are delighted with drawing Trapattoni’s men and have absolutely nothing to lose
“Obviously we have no pressure going into the playoffs. Our whole qualification process has been a success no matter what happens in November,” said Estonian football association spokesman Mihkel Uiboleht.
Let’s hope Ireland are not the ones found wanting under the considerable weight of the favourite’s tag, and make amends for the disappointment suffered in Paris, almost two years on.