Estonia

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Steady Estonian progress augurs well

Estonia has gradually developed its football infrastructure since independence in 1991.
Steady Estonian progress augurs well
Martin Reim won 157 caps for Estonia ©Getty Images

Steady Estonian progress augurs well

Estonia has gradually developed its football infrastructure since independence in 1991.

One of many states that emerged anew on the European scene after the dissolution of the USSR, Estonia has gradually developed its football infrastructure since regaining independence in 1991. The country may be yet to make a significant impact in international competition, but the national team caused a major surprise by finishing ahead of Serbia, Slovenia and Northern Ireland in their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying group and reaching the play-offs as runners-up to Italy.

Football took root in Estonia in the late 19th century, having been imported by British sailors. The sport spread fast, and the cities of Narva and Tallinn contest the honour of having staged the first-ever game. However, the first recorded match was in Tallinn on 6 June 1909 between Meteor and Merkuur, the original clubs.

By the time the Estonian Football Association (Eesti Jalgpalli Liit or EJL) was formed on 14 December 1921, the number of clubs had risen to 29 and a domestic league was in operation. Estonia had even enjoyed a first taste of international football, meeting Finland on 20 October 1920. FIFA membership followed in 1923.

Although that first match was a 6-0 defeat, Estonia held Sweden in their next outing in July 1921, and eventually celebrated victory in their sixth international, beating Lithuania 5-0 in Kaunas on 24 June 1923. The national team then participated in the Olympic football in Paris in 1924, losing to the United States.

Estonia competed regularly in Baltic football tournaments against Latvia and Lithuania, triumphing in 1929, 1931 and 1938. They also featured in qualifying for the 1934 and 1938 FIFA World Cups, notching a first win in 1937 against Finland. However, the game's development was halted in 1940 with the country's annexation by the Soviet Union. The last official international was a 2-1 home success over Latvia on 20 July 1940, after which the EJL was wound up.

Under the occupation Estonia had no possibility of joining UEFA when European football's ruling body was established in 1954. However, the Estonian SSR championship continued throughout the years of international isolation. The EJL was finally re-formed in 1988 and, from 1991, could resume its involvement in FIFA activities.

The year 1992 was an especially notable one as the newly independent state was admitted to UEFA and Estonia played their first international friendly in over half a century, drawing 1-1 with Slovenia on 3 June 1992. Subsequently, Estonian national teams and clubs have participated in almost all UEFA competitions for men, women and juniors.

The domestic championship, or Meistriliiga, also started up again in 1992. FC Flora and FC Levadia Tallinn became dominant forces, although FC Norma claimed back-to-back titles in the early 1990s, a feat matched by FC Lantana. If Estonia struggled initially to make their mark on the international stage, their steady improvement yielded creditable UEFA European Championship qualifying draws against Scotland, Croatia and Bulgaria.

The country's two most famous players are goalkeepers: Evald Tipner, who played for Sport Tallinn between 1924 and 1939, and Mart Poom, a national-team stalwart from 1992 who left Flora to make his name in England and finally retired in 2009. Martin Reim, capped 157 times, was a local legend who never made the breakthrough abroad. Reim also stopped playing in 2009, four years after Marko Kristal, a 143-cap veteran, had quit.

Several outstanding players have prospered in other countries: Indrek Zelinski, Urmas Rooba, Kristen Viikmäe, Raio Piiroja, Sergei Terehhov, Joel Lindpere and Marek Lemsalu in Scandinavia; Ragnar Klavan and Andres Oper in the Netherlands; and Sergei Pareiko in Russia. Given the work being undertaken at youth level – including hosting the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in 2012 – there will be additions to that list as Estonia plots a hopeful football future.

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President

 

Aivar Pohlak

Aivar Pohlak

Nationality: Estonian
Date of birth: 19 October 1962
Association president since: 2007

• A graduate of Tallinn's Polytechnic Institute, Aivar Pohlak wrote children's books and taught Estonian language and literature as well as maths, and dedicated himself to reviving football in post-Soviet Estonia, founding FC Flora in May 1990 with a group of friends.

• Flora's first coach, he briefly represented the club as a striker and has been the Tallinn side's president from the start; he was also assistant coach of the Estonian national team in 1992, and later played for FC Kuressaare. In 2002 he received a major national award for his work, and more recently he has served as a local councillor.

• A member of the Estonian Football Association (EJL) board since 1993, he became vice-president in 2003 before taking the presidency four years later. "We are aiming to build up a solid base for Estonian football," he said. "We want to be able to take on clubs and national teams from all over the world, regardless of how good they are."

General secretary

 

Anne Rei

Anne Rei

Nationality: Estonian
Date of birth: 17 June 1969
Association general secretary since: 2012

• Anne Rei, who has an athletics background, has been working in football for more than 20 years. She was competition director for the 2012 UEFA European Under-19 Championship final round in Estonia. A few months later, she stepped up to take the post of Estonian Football Association (EJL) general secretary, succeeding Tõnu Sirel, who is now EJL director.

• Since 2006, the former FC Flora Tallinn general manager has held several important posts, serving as a member of the EJL board, EJL youth department and EJL women's and amateur department.

• Since January 2013, Rei has also been a member of the UEFA Women's Football Committee.

Association info

  • Founded: 1921
  • UEFA affiliation: 1992
  • FIFA affiliation: 1923
  • Address: A. Le Coq Arena Asula 4c 11312 TALLINN
  • Telephone: +372 627 9960
  • Fax: +372 627 9969

UEFA ranking

CountryClubsPts
48WalesWales0/43.000
49ArmeniaArmenia0/42.875
50EstoniaEstonia0/42.875
51Faroe IslandsFaroe Islands0/42.125
52San MarinoSan Marino0/30.999
Last updated: 26/05/2014 06:59 CET

Honours by National Teams

No titles won

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