By Margus Luik
As they head into their UEFA Cup tie against Norwegian side FK Bodø/Glimt, Estonia's FC Levadia Tallinn could hardly be in higher spirits.
A 7-0 win against the Meistriliiga's bottom side FC Lootus Alutaguse at the weekend has sent them five points clear of FC TVMK Tallinn at the top of the table with perennial champions FC Flora seemingly nowhere to be seen. Including the end of the 2003 season, it left Tarmo Rüütli's side unbeaten in 21 games.
As if success at home were not enough, Levadia are also showing encouraging form in Europe. A 3-1 aggregate win against the Republic of Ireland's Bohemian FC in the UEFA Cup made them only the third side from the smallest of the Baltic nations to get past the first qualifying round in one of the major European competitions.
In 1996/97, FC Lantana Tallinn progressed to the qualifying round of the UEFA Cup after a 2-1 aggregate win against Iceland's ÍBV Vestmannæyjar, while in 2000/01 - under their previous guise as FC Levadia Maardu - Levadia overcame TNS Llansantffraid FC of Wales 6-2 on aggregate in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League.
The club only took up its current name this season. They won the Estonian title in 1999 and 2000 as FC Levadia Maardu, before changing their name and sending president Viktor Levada's other club – 2003 Estonian Cup winners FC Levadia Tallinn - into the first division to become FC Levadia-2 Tallinn.
Now the new Levadia Tallinn have a chance to better Levadia Maardu's mighty European achievement by reaching the first round of the UEFA Cup proper, and in the process, become the first Estonian club to win successive European ties. And while it will be a tough task, coach Rüütli was not feeling disheartened.
"All Norwegian clubs are strong, but I was under no illusion anyway," he said. "There are no weak teams at this stage of the competition. However, I reckon the chances are 50-50 at the moment. We have enough attacking qualities to make trouble and we are afraid of no one."
Such optimism is almost inevitable in the light of recent results. Thrashing bottom-of-the-table Lootus was one thing, but in their previous three league games they had even better results, winning 6-0 and 2-0 against JK Trans Narva as well as beating champions Flora 2-0.
'Nothing is decided'
With ten games remaining until the end of the season, the coach was none the less remaining calm. "There is still a long way to go before the season ends, so nothing is decided," he said, although few in Estonia can see anyone matching Levadia, such has been their form since the start of the campaign.
While they still have a way to go if they are to match their run of 49 games unbeaten between 1999 and 2001, they have dropped just six points all season through draws against TVMK, Flora and Trans. In eleven of their 18 games they have kept clean sheets, and goalkeeper Artur Kotenko set a club record, going 514 minutes without conceding a goal in May.
To add to the good atmosphere at the club, July also saw English first division side Leicester City FC pay a visit to Tallinn for a friendly game, and while two Dion Dublin goals gave the visitors a 3-2 win, Levadia gave a good account of themselves.
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