While Estonia went down 2-0 at home to Ukraine in a friendly on Tuesday night, they could be excused if their minds were elsewhere: Serbia's 1-0 loss in their final Group C fixture handed Tarmo Rüütli's side an unexpected UEFA EURO 2012 play-off slot.
Estonia had been on tenterhooks following their 2-1 victory in Northern Ireland on Friday, which left them second in the section but still vulnerable. Serbia would have taken the runners-up berth had they won in Slovenia, and midfielder Konstantin Vassiljev – whose five goals have been crucial in qualifying – conceded that Estonia struggled to focus on the Ukraine friendly.
"We really had problems concentrating on this match as we had put so much emotion into the game in Northern Ireland," Vassiljev told UEFA.com. "With just a few days between the two games, we couldn't recharge our batteries. I missed a penalty but that hasn't affected my confidence. It was better to do it now than in our previous game or in one of the next two."
Players, coaches and fans stayed behind after full time at Tallinn's A. Le Coq Arena to hear updates from the Serbia match, with a huge roar greeting the final whistle in Maribor, where Dare Vršič's first-half goal had made all the difference. "This is what real happiness feels like," said midfielder Martin Vunk. "Our fans are delighted. The second half in Slovenia was so tense for us."
It has been a campaign of bizarre twists for Estonia: if the 3-1 win in Serbia last October represented perhaps the best result in their history, June's 2-0 loss in the Faroe Islands marked a notable low. "
When we lost in the Faroes in June, we could never have dreamed of something like this happening," said Vunk, who plays in Cyprus for Nea Salamis Famagusta FC. "Our secret is quite simple: we have played well and Vassiljev scores goals. We don't care who we meet in the play-offs. We'll think about that later. I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight."
Estonian Football Association (EJL) president Aivar Pohlak will be hoping Vunk and his team-mates manage to get some rest. "The most important thing now is to control our emotions, but it's a tough thing to do," Pohlak said. "If someone had told me after the Faroe Islands game that we would finish second, I'd have thought they were out of their minds. I only dared to believe it might happen in the second minute of added time in Maribor. We have already overachieved. Now we have to maintain this standard to compete in the play-offs."
The draw for the four qualifying play-off ties will be made in Krakow, Poland, on Thursday, when Estonia will find out their opponents for the two-legged encounter on 11/12 and 15 November.
©UEFA.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.