Season review: Estonia

A youthful FC Levadia Tallinn took their eighth title, but a sixth Estonian Cup success was to prove an ill omen for FC Flora Tallinn, who are set for a rare absence from Europe.

Ilja Antonov (left) and Igor Subbotin celebrate a goal for Levadia
Ilja Antonov (left) and Igor Subbotin celebrate a goal for Levadia ©Estonian FA

FC Levadia Tallinn wrapped up their eighth Estonian title – and first since 2009 – with two games to spare, outmuscling reigning champions JK Nõmme Kalju despite a policy shift that has put the focus on young players since the start of the 2012 season.

Champions: FC Levadia Tallinn
Two years ago, Levadia coach Marko Kristal and his assistant Indrek Zelinski ditched most of their experienced players, rebuilding the team around youngsters – most of them graduates of the Levadia academy. The youngsters made a huge step up this year with 30 wins in 36 league games. Kalju and Levadia traded 1-0 and 2-1 defeats in their four league meetings, but the reigning champions ultimately paid the price for dropping points against the likes of FC Infonet and JK Tallinna Kalev.

Cup final: JK Nõmme Kalju 1-3 FC Flora Tallinn
A sixth Estonian Cup success represented the high point of a tough year for the one-time giants of Estonian football. Andre Frolov scored twice and Markus Jürgenson hit the third in a mature final performance, but their season disintegrated soon afterwards. Coach Marko Lelov's departure made little difference, with Flora finishing fourth in the league and being knocked out of the 2013/14 Estonian Cup. European ever-presents for 20 years, they are likely to miss out on a continental berth.

European places
FC Levadia Tallinn – UEFA Champions League second qualifying round
JK Nõmme Kalju – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
JK Sillamäe Kalev – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round
TBC (2013/14 Estonian Cup winners) – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round

*subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Rimo Hunt (FC Levadia Tallinn)
Still playing for fun in the third division as recently as 2010, Hunt scored 44 goals for Tallinna Kalev in the second division in 2011, and was 26 by the time he made his top-level debut in 2012. Last time out, he racked up a respectable 11 league goals – in 2013 he got 22, a tally which saw him acclaimed as the Estonian league's player of the year by fans and the Estonian Football Association (EJL). Handed his first senior caps in 2013, the 28-year-old is now hoping to succeed abroad in Poland.

One to watch: Ilja Antonov (FC Levadia Tallinn)
The little defensive midfielder shows enormous courage and plenty of skill – which may have something to do with the fact that Antonov represented Estonia at international level in futsal before making it to the senior football team for the first time in 2012. He did not turn 21 until last week, but showed immense maturity throughout Levadia's title charge, and is a regular at Under-21 level for his country.

Surprise package: FC Infonet
Kudos to Sillamäe Kalev, who registered 20 more points than last year to finish third, but their budget dwarfed that of Infonet, who finished sixth despite a widespread perception that they would not be able to cut it in their first season in the top division. A young side worked small wonders, with the experience of former Levadia players Konstantin Nahk and Andrei Kalimullin helping Aleksandr Pustov's side take points off many of the top sides.

Leading scorer: Vladimir Voskoboinikov (JK Nõmme Kalju), 23

Relegated: FC Kuressaare

Promoted: Jõhvi FC Lokomotiv

Number: 38,753
The aggregate attendance for the 2013 Estonian season – up 4,435 on the 2012 total. Oddly, the side with the best attendance figures were JK Tammeka Tartu who finished ninth. Increasing crowds is a major goal in Estonia, with a 3,500-plus gate for the cup final a step in the right direction.

Quote: "Our clear commitment to play young guys has brought results. To be honest, I hoped that we might have been able to win it last season, but we missed out. Our lads have been dreaming about this and they did everything I asked of them during these two years. Now we should set new targets because these young players are ready to progress."
Levadia coach Marko Kristal celebrates his side's title success.