Gibraltar continue their next round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers with a double header against Estonia and Belgium. One being a familiar opponent, whilst another being a country full of world class players who play among the elite of world football. Focusing on Estonia for this preview, they do not come into this game on the best of form. Manager Magnus Pehrsson left his post with the association by mutual consent, after a sequence of poor results stemming back to a 7-0 loss against Portugal, a 1-1 draw against Malta and a 5-0 defeat to Bosnia in the first Group H qualifier. As a comparison, Gibraltar lost to Portugal 5-0 and beat Malta 1-0 in their previous meetings against Estonia’s latest opponents, suggesting Gibraltar could be on a par against Friday’s opponents. Estonia’s current FIFA ranking stands at 130 indicates Gibraltar are facing a side where they could realistically aim to extract points from.
Estonia swiftly promoted record appearance maker Martin Reim (157) who had been manager of their U21 side and has agreed a contract until the end of the qualification phase. Reim has since recalled several attack-minded players who had been overlooked by Pehrsson in the past. Siim Luts (Bohemians Prague), Henrik Ojamaa (Go Ahead Eagles) and Sergei Mošnikov (FC Infonet Tallinn). All these three are wingers and/or attacking midfielders. Pehrsson put strong emphasis on defence and used defenders on the flanks of midfield. That looks unlikely to continue under Reim.
Reim’s main concern ahead of the game is the fitness of experienced playmaker Konstantin Vassiljev who missed his match in Polish league on Sunday due to a minor strain. He said recently he hopes to be ready for Friday. Should the experienced international not be risked for the game, Fulham’s teenage attacking midfielder Mattias Kait could step in for his 2nd cap. Reim pointed out that he won’t take unnecessary risks with players’ fitness. It is therefore possible that Vassiljev will start on the bench with Monday’s match against Greece in mind. Vassiljev played both games in which Gibraltar and Estonia have faced each other since Gibraltar entered UEFA competition, setting up the goal for Liverpool centre back Ragnar Klavan in the 1-1 draw in Tallinn back in May 2014. Just 2 months before, Estonia had visited the Rock and beaten Gibraltar 2-0 in a close encounter with goals from Dimitri Kruglov and Rimo Hunt, the former still in the current squad for Friday’s match.
Estonia have plenty of experienced internationals with 3 over the 100 cap mark, Klavan (115), Kruglov (105) and Dmitrijev (100). Vassiljev is close with 90 caps to his name to date. There are however not many goals within the side with the current squad having scored a combined total of 57 goals, 31 of which have been scored by Vassiljev (21) and Zenjov (10)