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The Republic of Ireland represent a major obstacle for Estonia in the UEFA EURO 2012 play-offs, but goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko hopes his side can make use of the chinks in Giovanni Trapattoni's men's armour.
Unexpected qualifying Group C runners-up, Estonia are two fixtures from next summer's finals, yet are up against an Ireland squad still smarting from narrowly missing out on the 2010 FIFA World Cup at the final hurdle. Starting in Tallinn on Friday and concluding in Dublin on Tuesday, something will have to give.
"I played against some Irish players recently so I know a bit about them," said Pareiko, who took on Ireland's Stephen Kelly and Damien Duff in Wisła Kraków's recent UEFA Europa League games against Fulham FC. "The ability of their players is obvious.
These two matches are special ones. Skill is an important issue, but character and luck will be big factors as well.
"Some people have said that short passing and quick football could be a good weapon against the Republic of Ireland," added Pareiko. "In their games against Russia and Armenia it was evident that the Irish sometimes can't handle fast, skilful players."
Tarmo Rüütli's team upset the odds in Group C by finishing above 2010 World Cup contenders Serbia, whom they defeated 3-1 in Belgrade – a superb omen for Pareiko, who said: "Serbia were pretty good at the last World Cup where they beat Germany. Ireland didn't qualify for the last world or European championship. However, they did finish second in a very tough group."
Unconcerned that some of his team-mates are short on first-team football – "this can be a plus" – Wisła's 34-year-old No1 even put a positive spin on his club's weekend league defeat at neighbours MKS Cracovia Kraków, which cost coach Robert Maaskant his job. "That's football," he said. "Success always comes after disappointment."
With no snow expected in Tallinn for Friday's play-off opener, Pareiko hopes Estonia can put the euphoria of their Group C achievements behind them, mindful that success has a habit of creating pressure. "It could affect us in a negative way," he said. "The more normally we prepare, the better. This is the secret of success – stay calm before the games and show what we can do on the pitch."
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