🇪🇪 ESTONIA 🇪🇪
The Estonian championship, known as Meistriliiga, was established in 1921. Stopped by World War II in 1940, the Estonian championship was resumed in 1945 as part of the USSR. The Estonian championship as an independent nation was resumed in 1992 when independence was regained. Flora and Levadia are the two most popular clubs in Estonian championship.
The ten best teams meet 4 times in the championship Estonian. At the end of the 36 matches, the 1st is crowned champion and qualifies for the Champions League. The 2nd, 3rd and the winner of the Estonian Cup go to the Europa League. At the end, the last one is relegated to the second division. The 9th plays a return play-off match against the 2nd in the second division to try to hold on.
Estonia is one of the many countries that re-emerged on the European scene after the break-up of the USSR. Since 1991, when it regained its independence, the country has gradually developed its football structures. Although the country has yet to make an impact at international level, Estonia caused a sensation by finishing behind Italy but ahead of Serbia, Slovenia and Northern Ireland in the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers, securing a play-off ticket.
Football was born in Estonia at the end of the 19th century thanks to British sailors. The sport quickly became very popular and Narva and Tallinn disputed who played the first game in the country. However, the first official match was played in Tallinn on 6 June 1909 between Meteoor and Merkuur, the country’s first two clubs.
The Estonian Football Association (EJL) was founded on 14 December 1921, the number of clubs increased to 29 and an Estonian championship was established. Earlier, Estonia played its first international match against Finland on 20 October 1920. The association joined FIFA in 1923.
That first match ended in a 6-0 defeat, then in their second match Estonia drew with Sweden – in July 1921 – and it was in their 6th international match that they recorded their first victory against Lithuania 5-0 in Kaunas on 24 June 1923. The Estonians then participated in the Olympic football tournament in Paris in 1924, losing to the USA in the first round.
Until 1939, Estonia played regularly in Baltic football tournaments against Latvia and Lithuania, winning in 1929, 1931 and 1938. The national team also participated in the qualifying rounds of the 1934 and 1938 FIFA World Cups and recorded a first victory against Finland in 1937. But the country’s development came to an end in 1940 when the territory was annexed by the Soviet Union. The last official international match was a 1-0 home win against Latvia on 20 July 1940. Thereafter, the EJL was forced to fade away.
Although Estonia was unable to join UEFA when European football’s governing body was established in 1954, its Estonian championship continued throughout its years of isolation. The EJL was finally reformed in 1988 and in 1991 and resumed its activities within FIFA.
Estonia played their first international match just over half a century later, on 3 June 1992, drawing 1-1 against Slovenia.
The Estonian championship, the Meistriliiga, restarted in 1992, with FC Flora and FC Levadia Maardu emerging as the top teams, although FC Norma won two Estonian championships in a row in the early 1990s and FC Lantana also won back-to-back league titles.
Estonia initially struggled to establish themselves at international level after independence, but they have quietly progressed and gained credibility in UEFA European Championship qualifiers against Scotland, Croatia and Bulgaria.
The country’s two most famous players are two goalkeepers – Evald Tipner, who played for Sport Tallinn between 1924 and 1939, and Mart Poom, a regular in the national team since 1992, who left Flora for England before retiring in 2009. Martin Reim, 157 caps, was a local star, but only shone in Estonia. He also retired in 2009, four years after Marko Kristal (143 caps).
Other excellent players have made their mark abroad – Andres Oper, Indrek Zelinski, Urmas Rooba, Kristen Viikmäe, Raio Piiroja, Sergei Terehhov, Joel Lindpere and Marek Lemsalu in Scandinavia, Andres Oper in the Netherlands, Ragnar Klavan in Germany and Sergei Pareiko in Russia. Add to this the tremendous work being done at youth level, including the organisation of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in 2012, and Estonia can be very optimistic about the future of their football.
The country’s optimism is also due to its excellent showing at UEFA EURO 2012, when it finished second in its qualifying group ahead of Serbia, Slovenia and Northern Ireland and won a play-off ticket to the finals for the first time in its history. Unfortunately, a heavy defeat at home to the Republic of Ireland ended Estonia‘s hopes, despite a draw in Ireland in the return match.
In order to further develop the national team, Sweden’s Magnus Pehrsson was appointed Estonia‘s head coach in December 2013. The UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying competition was a disappointing campaign for Estonia, who finished fourth in their group. In September 2016, after the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying phase, Martin Reim was appointed as Pehrsson‘s successor as Estonia‘s coach. He has previously won the Estonian title twice as head coach of FC Flora Tallinn and has also coached Estonia at different levels: youth, U21 and U23.
In recent years, Nõmme Kalju FC has been the most successful Estonian club at European level. They beat FC Aktobe (Kazakhstan) in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League in 2015 and reached the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League in 2016/17 after beating Lithuania’s FK du Trakai and Maccabi Haifa FC (Israel) before losing to Osmanlıspor.
In August 2018, Estonia hosts the biggest major football event in its history – the UEFA Super Cup. The match is played at the Tallinn Arena.