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European Championship qualification: Underdog Estonia with Koller connection

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European Championship qualification: Underdog Estonia with Koller connection

European Championship qualification

After the successful start of the European Championship qualifier against Azerbaijan, Estonia, the second underdog in Group F, is waiting for Austria’s kicker again on Monday (8.45 p.m. live on ORF1 and in the live stream) in Linz. Like the Azerbaijanis, the Estonians have also experienced an upswing in the recent past. One of the underdog’s trump cards is his Swiss coach Thomas Häberli, who has good relations with former Austrian team boss Marcel Koller.

The Estonians are currently number 109 in the FIFA world rankings – twelve places better than Azerbaijan, who lost 4-1 to the Austrians on Friday. Like the Azerbaijanis, Estonia have never come close to playing in a major tournament. However, under Häberli, Estonia had a remarkable run of eight games unbeaten last year.

The high flight was only stopped on Friday in the friendly against Hungary with a 0-1 defeat. Before that, however, the Estonians had four wins in four games in the Nations League. Small caveat: Estonia celebrated its successes in the lowest league against teams from Malta and San Marino, who are also further behind in world football.

Reuters/Jennifer Lorenzini

Häberli helped that last year Estonia was a big one, at least in the concert of the little ones

In any case, coach Häberli was able to get insider information about a few Austrian kickers. In 2018, the 48-year-old was co-coach to former ÖFB team boss Marcel Koller at FC Basel before he looked after FC Luzern for a year in 2019. A consulting job for Flora Tallinn gave the former striker the chance to join as Estonian team boss at the beginning of 2021. The contract has now been extended. “They are undoubtedly a strong opponent,” said Häberli about the Austrians. “They have a lot of players in the German Bundesliga.”

Young goalie as the star of the team

The Estonians’ most valuable player is goalkeeper Karl Hein, whose main job is under contract with current English leaders Arsenal. While the 20-year-old only plays third fiddle in goal for the Gunners, Hein already has 19 international matches under his belt for Estonia. He showed his potential against Hungary, where he saved a penalty from Freiburg Legionnaire Roland Sallai.

Estonia goalie Karl Hein

IMAGO/Domenic Aquilina

Despite his youth, Hein has been part of the national team for a long time

The Balts’ style of play is characterized by long, fast balls to the top. The Austrians also have to be prepared for a defensive five-man chain. Defense chief Karol Mets has been defending on loan at German second division club FC St. Pauli since the winter break. Konstantin Vassiljev acts as captain of the Estonians. The 38-year-old midfielder from Flora Tallinn is playing his 150th international match against the ÖFB team.

In any case, the two previous duels clearly speak for Austria: In the successful qualification for the 1998 World Cup there were two ÖFB victories. Ivica Vastic and Peter Stöger scored the goals in the 2-0 draw in Vienna in April 1997. On August 20, 1997, the Austrians won 3-0 in Tallinn. Record goalscorer Toni Polster prepared the way for the legendary 1-0 home win two weeks later against Sweden with a hat trick, with which the ÖFB selection came decisively closer to the last World Cup participation in France.

ÖFB record against Estonia

2 games – 2 wins (goal difference 5:0)

April 30, 1997, Vienna (World Cup qualifier): Austria – Estonia 2:0

August 20, 1997, Tallinn (World Cup qualifier): Estonia – Austria 0:3

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