Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Estonia – Bosnia-Herzegovina (10-10-2017)

In Tallinn for the Estonian EU Presidency, I was happy to see that the national team played its last game for the World Cup 2018 Qualifiers on a Tuesday evening, after my conference came to an end. So, I took a taxi to the stadium, where I buy a ticket for just 19 in a tiny box, which seems to be the only “ticket office” of the whole stadium.

The A. Le Coq Arena, also known as the Lilleküla Stadium, is a new, small, multi-purpose stadium outside of the (touristic) town center. It is the home ground for the national team, Eesti, and the biggest club, FC Flora, with a capacity of 10,500 for football games – it is still being finished and should be extended to 15,000 by the end of 2017.

This evening the stadium is roughly half full, with an official attendance of 4,967 people. Although it is a rainy Tuesday evening, and neither team can qualify anymore, it is still a remarkably low “crowd” for a World Cup Qualifier. The audience is very diverse in terms of age, class, and gender – obviously, virtually everyone is white, reflecting the country, an I assume almost everyone is Estonian speaking, as Russian speakers probably identify much less with the (fairly unsuccessful) Estonian national team. 

Before the game the fans unveil a huge national flag, as they proudly sing the national anthem. The home fans are also remarkably respectful of the away fans, and national anthem. Overall, there is the friendly, small-town atmosphere that you can find at a third-division game in Germany. There are some 250 fans who have made the ca. 2,300 km (1,435 miles) trek from Bosnia-Herzegovina, including the hardcore BH Fanaticos.

They see an uninspired Bosnia and a willing but not very able Estonia play a fairly poor game of football. It takes 10 minutes before Estonia has its first, weak, shot at goal. Three minutes later the game is temporarily suspended after the BH Fanatics unleash massive fireworks – odd, given that I was frisked pretty decently when entering the stadium – and throw them onto the pitch. The home fans boo loudly, which is adorable.

I later hear that this was some type of protest against their national football association. In fact, after their protest, the BH Fanatics disappear, which means they have traveled 2,300 km for 15 minutes of football – or, more probably, for a 1-minute protest. Respect! They did leave a mark, however.

After the Bosnian shenanigans, the game returns to its dire level. In the 25th minute the Estonians shoot from 20 meters, but the ball goes wide. Ten minutes later a Bosnian striker gets totally alone before the goalie (he seemed offside), but the weak shot is saved by the goalie and he wastes the rebound. The next minute Estonia has a weird attack, a player gets the ball 5 meters from the goal and shoots it roughly 5 meters over. 0-0 is the inevitable half time score.

Just two minutes into the second half a long kick and a soft back-header is picked up by a Bosnian player and easily finished: 0-1. A few minutes later there is a scramble in the box and the Bosnians claim a penalty. In the 58th minute Estonia gets a corner, but it is headed wide.

In the 70th minute the Bosnian attack, super star Dzeko gives a brilliant pass, but the shot is saved and the rebound goes far over. In the 75th minute the hosts have a surprise attack, and a shot from 11 meters goes into the low corner: 1-1. The home fans celebrate.

There are now a few more fans, even if the pace and quality remain poor. In the 79th minute Estonia has a free kick from 18 meters, which is beautifully lifted over the wall, but the goalie makes a great safe. Five minutes later, as I’m in the restroom, the Bosnians score: 1-2. That is also the final score.

Despite the poor quality of play and and weather, this was an enjoyable evening. It is not often that you can go to an official WC Qualifier and sit with just 5,000 people in a still half-filled national stadium. I can’t wait to return to Estonia and see some club football!

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