Estonia will add the missing piece to their impressive collection when they visit Gibraltar on Wednesday, becoming the first team to have taken on all 53 of their fellow UEFA member associations.
Back on 5 June 2012, the Baltic nation broke new ground as they faced France for the first time, becoming the first UEFA national side to complete a full set of 52 European opponents. However, the arrival of Gibraltar as UEFA's 54th member country last year once more left Estonia – who recently adopted the hedgehog as their national footballing mascot – seeking closure.
"After Gibraltar joined UEFA, we again had one member missing," said Estonian Football Association (EJL) president Aivar Pohlak. "We were quick to agree two friendlies with them for 2014. We want to be, and have been, a very active football country. Our vision includes playing as many matches as possible with the national team. It was not our initial intention to set this record, but after acting according to our principles and values we discovered after many years that we were just a couple of countries short."
Pohlak also explained the decision to deploy the hedgehog as Estonia's new national soccer symbol. "We are a small country and our way must be through being as smart as possible," he said. "In the Estonian epic Kalevipoeg, the hedgehog gives good advice to the main character. Also, hedgehogs are known to be smart – they are small but very hard to beat as they can defend themselves very well. They are able to attack too and can strike down snakes."
Estonia will play England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Lithuania and San Marino in the upcoming UEFA EURO 2016 qualifiers. They achieved a new best in the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers, reaching the play-offs but losing to the Republic of Ireland.
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