Slovenia's hopes of reaching UEFA EURO 2012 took a significant blow as they succumbed 2-1 at home against Estonia – their first loss to the Baltic side in seven meetings.
Matjaž Kek's charges were hopeful of success after prevailing 1-0 in Tallinn last October, but there was to be no repeat despite Tim Matavž conjuring a 78th-minute equaliser to cancel out Konstantin Vassiljev's first-half penalty for the visitors. With just nine minutes remaining, Estonia substitute Ats Purje caught Samir Handanovič by surprise to leave Slovenia eight points shy of Italy in Group C and level with Serbia, who boast a game in hand.
The evening took its first wrong turn for the hosts when Handanovič brought down Sergei Zenjov after the forward had beaten the offside trap. Vassiljev did the rest from the spot and Martin Vunk nearly put Estonia two up early in the second half only to miss the target from ten metres out.
The lion's share of the possession belonged to Slovenia, but they struggled to carve out chances and had to wait until the 62nd minute for their first real opening, Dare Vršič testing Sergei Pareiko with a volley that the goalkeeper did well to keep out. His counterpart was proving influential as well, denying Dmitri Kruglov from a free-kick and saving a close-range Vunk effort, before Valter Birsa went close from a set piece at the other end.
Matavž finally gave the home fans something to cheer about when he finished from two metres out after substitute Zlatan Ljubijankič had escaped down the left, but just three minutes later Estonia struck again, Purje catching Handanovič off guard. Slovenia now face a daunting trip to Italy on Tuesday – when Serbia will be entertaining the Faroe Islands – before their campaign ends at home against their closest rivals on 11 October. As for Estonia, one point back in fourth, they host Northern Ireland next week.