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Pikk happy to answer Estonia's call to arms

Ahead of Estonia's Group E trip to San Marino, defender Artur Pikk tells UEFA.com about his memorable debut against England and discusses both his and the team's ambitions.

Artur Pikk's national service could not prevent him making a full Estonia debut against England
Artur Pikk's national service could not prevent him making a full Estonia debut against England ©Hendrik Osula

Pikk means 'long' in Estonian, and Estonia's Artur Pikk insists he still has far to go to achieve his footballing ambitions despite making a remarkable full international debut against England last month.

The 21-year-old FC Levadia Tallinn left-back needed special permission from the Estonian army to play in the Group E match, a 1-0 home defeat, as he is currently undertaking three months' national service. Drafted into Magnus Pehrsson's squad because of defensive injuries, Pikk played all 94 minutes against England to earn his second cap after a brief substitute outing against Tajikistan in June. Then it was straight back to military base for this veteran of the 2012 UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals on home soil. 

Ahead of Estonia's next qualifier against San Marino on 15 November, Pikk relived the England experience during an exclusive interview with UEFA.com.

UEFA.com: Has your full debut sunk in yet?

Artur Pikk: Well, it comes to mind often. It was such a big match – my first full game at international level, first competitive match for Estonia and against great opponents. The emotions were just unbelievable and the tension high. I didn't expect to be in the starting XI. But I can't say it's changed my life – it was just a first step. I'm on the right path but I need to continue and keep working.

UEFA.com: Did you hear that several English papers wrote about you after the match?

Pikk: Yes, I was told. I also read something myself, but I haven't had much time for this. I went back to base straight after the match and it is not the place where you can read much. The attention is nice but I don't feel like a star. Rather I feel that I can't stop now, I need to keep working and developing as a player.

Highlights: Estonia 0-1 England

UEFA.com: What actually happened for you to leave national service to play a UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier?

Pikk: I was in barracks when I got a mail with a call to join the team. I went to discuss this with my superiors, who had already been informed. They allowed me to join the team two days before the match and I spent all this time with the squad. I took part in training and, on the matchday, the coach told me I'd be starting. Everyone at my base watched the game – they were given permission. They welcomed me back very warmly and were really positive about my performance.

UEFA.com: Did the whole experience feel a bit surreal?

Pikk: Of course, it's totally unusual. People were surprised – how can an Estonian international come from the army. I remember the moment I walked out of the dressing room wearing military gear. Everybody turned to me – they were looking and thinking who is this guy. Once they recognised me, they started asking me questions.

UEFA.com: You serve in a sporting squadron. How does this work?

Pikk: We have boxers, cyclists, athletes, other sportsmen, and our advantage is that we manage our own training schedule. If we take morning exercise, for example, then we can stick to our own programmes – go for a run, do weights or other exercises. We are also allowed to leave for training, but not always.

UEFA.com: How would you compare playing against England to representing your country at a UEFA European U19 Championship?

Estonia's 2012 U19 side
Estonia's 2012 U19 side©Sportsfile
Paul Pogba at the U19 finals in 2012
Paul Pogba at the U19 finals in 2012©Sportsfile

Pikk: The emotions after the England game were much bigger. Also the fans really got behind us, whereas at youth level people came just to watch some football. It was also much harder physically against England. I follow some of those who played in that tournament in Estonia – Paul Pogba has achieved so much already. If I work hard I'll have opportunities as well.

UEFA.com: After Estonia beat Slovenia in September, people started saying the team could repeat their result of the last EURO qualification when they got to the play-offs. But since then you have lost to Lithuania and England ...

Pikk: What people say is one thing, the situation inside the team is another. We all knew that defeating Slovenia didn't mean anything. For us, every match is a new mission. And there are many games ahead. We absolutely have to beat San Marino – we can't give away easy points if we want to battle for qualification. However, we do have a chance. It's good that we have a blend of youth and experience. But if we want better results, we need to be more aggressive – and of course, more attention is needed on individual skills and physical conditions.