Just two nights after the UEFA European Under-19 Championship concluded in Estonia, big-time football returns to the Lilleküla Stadium as FC Flora Tallinn welcome FC Basel 1893 in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round.
This time last year Flora ran eventual UEFA Europa League group stage contenders Shamrock Rovers FC close with a 1-0 aggregate loss; Basel, of course, pipped Manchester United FC to the 2011/12 round of 16. However, former Estonia goalkeeper Mart Poom, Flora's sporting director, is up for the challenge. "It's not a big misfortune that we have to play against Basel," Poom said. "It's just a big challenge. We should produce a disciplined display and score at least one goal."
Flora coach Martin Reim has similar ambition. "Our opponents are very strong, but we should gain a result which will leave us with chances to fight on in Switzerland," he told UEFA.com. "We need to prove we are worthy opponents. It's not just about playing good football. It's about decent results, it's about the win. We will see if we have enough quality for that."
Although Estonia were beaten three times at the U19 finals, won eventually by Spain, the experience proved useful for several Flora players, not least the two outstanding members of the host team: Karl-Eerik Luigend and Karol Mets. "They are both in good shape and might have a place in the starting XI on Tuesday," Reim said. "They were not bad at all against the best young players in Europe, but let see what they can do against the strongest senior players."
Basel's run last season and three straight Swiss titles certainly puts them in that category, and they began their 2012/13 fixtures on Friday with a 1-0 win at Servette FC. "I've seen footage of their matches," Reim said. "They opened their Swiss league campaign and I know what to expect. They are not on their top form at the moment. It was pointless to watch their matches against United again. Everything will be totally different this time."
Flora are four points behind Estonian league leaders JK Nõmme Kalju after 18 games and have had some financial worries but Reim is confident the team will put those to one side. "Yes, we have some issues but it won't be a problem," he said. "UEFA Champions League matches are very special, so we think now only about the coming games against Basel. We will do our best and won't talk about anything else.
"I played against very good clubs and national teams in the past, but I haven't ever met such strong opponents as a coach," added Reim, capped 157 times by Estonia. "The main thing is to believe in our strengths and not to be afraid. If we do so, anything is possible."
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