FC Flora are on the brink of a historic European victory as they take on Esbjerg fB.
By Margus Luik
After eleven years of being eliminated in the first round of European competitions, FC Flora are hoping their luck will turn tonight.
The seven-time Estonian champions achieved a notable first last week as they won 2-1 at Denmark's Esbjerg fB in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Cup to achieve their maiden European away win, a result somewhat tarnished by the concession of a late goal.
"A win always pleases me, but after the match we did not realise we had done anything special," Flora coach Janno Kivisild told uefa.com. "Our aim was to play as good a game as possible, hoping to leave ourselves with some chance to fight for qualification in the second leg."
To that end, Kivisild could not be anything other than pleased with the start of Flora's 12th consecutive European season. "The fact we managed to keep 100 per cent to our game plan gave us a good result and the confidence of knowing we can compete with stronger teams," he added.
While Flora have always been the dominant team in post-Soviet Estonia, their failure to light up European competitions has been something of a disappointment - especially considering that other local sides have managed to win European ties despite competing much less regularly.
Back in 1996/97, the now-defunct FC Lantana Tallinn overcame Iceland's ÍBV Vestmannæyjar in the first round of the UEFA Cup, while FC Levadia Tallinn have gone one better, having picked up two victories in both of Europe's top competitions in the last five seasons.
Levadia overcame Wales' Total Network Solutions FC in their opening UEFA Champions League fixture of 2000/01 and defeated the Republic of Ireland's Bohemian FC in their opening UEFA Cup game last season, before losing out to Norway's FK Bodø/Glimt on penalties in the following round.
By contrast, Flora's brightest European achievement so far has been a 3-1 home win against Romanian former European Champion Clubs' Cup winners FC Steaua Bucuresti in the first qualifying round of the 1998/99 Champions League. It counted for little though as they had lost 4-1 in the away leg.
That was not their first European victory, however. Back in the 1994/95 season, a goal from Otar Korgalidze gave them a 1-0 win against Norway's Lillestrøm SK in Tallinn in the UEFA Cup. But that too was only a minor consolation, having lost 4-0 in the away leg.
Those two wins aside, Flora's miserable record in Europe comprises three draws and 17 defeats, although the statistics may have handed Flora one lifeline. One of their three draws in the past was against another Danish side - Odense BK. Another draw tonight would be more than welcome.
Kivisild, however, was only too ready to acknowledge that, despite last week's win, the odds were still firmly stacked in Esbjerg's favour. "We must be realistic - Esbjerg are very strong opponents and should still be considered favourites in this match," he said.
"Unfortunately we are going into the game with eight regular players injured, so it would be a very tough experience for our young squad," added the coach, whose side are eleven points off the pace in the Meistriliiga. "But if we can play our own game, anything is possible."