Sunday, 30 October 2016

Way Out East

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Sunday 30 October 2016 at Ahtme Gümnaasium Kunstmurustaadion
Jöhvi FC Lokomotiv 0 JK Keila 1
II Liiga Promotion Play-Off 1st Leg (Estonian 4th tier)
Ground 598
Pre-match preparation
I chose this match, 2hrs to the east of Tallinn, for two reasons.  Firstly, although at a lower level than the second-tier alternatives on offer, it has more sporting significance.  This match means something to both sides.  Secondly, it was a chance to see some of Estonia beyond the capital.  I think this game will also be the most easterly that I have ever watched.

These two sides were runners-up in their regions.  Keila had six more points from the same number of regular-season games, but it is hard to say whether that is significant.
This match in one sentence
Lokomotiv kept the tie in the balance despite going down to ten men just before half-time.
So what?
The second leg is scheduled for next weekend.  If I am reading the league structures correctly, the winner will then have to meet the eighth-placed side in III Liiga for the promoted place.
The drama unfolds
A crowd of around 50 was gathered, mostly appearing from warm cars at the last moment.  As might be expected, the sides seemed well matched.  They largely cancelled each other out.  There was plenty of effort but not much final product and I made very few notes in the first 30 minutes or so.  Then the Lokomotive keeper, wearing white and the number 99, made a great save to tip the ball over the bar.  A goalmouth scramble followed from the corner.  By this point, Keila were slightly on top with their number 7, Emmanuel Odeh, looking sharp on the wing.

The hinge point came on 37 minutes.  A second yellow card was waved at a Lokomotiv defender for a reckless challenge on Odeh, who needed treatment.  He had recovered in time to poke home what turned out to be the game’s only goal from close range just before the break.  0-1 after 43 mins

Lokomotiv could have equalised almost immediately.  A great move on the left with a perfectly weighted pass inside the full-back released number 12, but his pass inside led to a rather tame shot by a colleague.  0-1 at half-time

Credit is due to the ten men, who kept fighting and fashioned the occasional half-chance, the best coming from set pieces.  Keila were not creating too much themselves and the game settled into a mainly defensive stalemate.  Locomotiv did not simply settle for damage limitation and were happy to get forward at every opportunity.  However, defences and keepers did their jobs and the tie is still alive with only a one-goal margin going forward to next week’s second leg.  Final score 0-1
Ground Pix

Match Pix
FC Lokomotiv are in red.
Who was that masked man?

Scorer Emmanuel Odeh (7) at work annoying defenders

Learn Estonian Through Football
Püapaev – Sunday
Eesti – Estonian
Jalgpall – football
Külalised - visitors
üks-null – one-nil
Särgid – shirts
Püksid - shorts
Põlvikud – socks

Leegitatud kitsejuust rohelise salati padja ja röstitud seedermänni seemnetega – Flamed goat’s cheese with a bed of green salad and roasted pine nuts

And finally, you should know this running gag by now...
Mu hõljuk on angerjaid täis
Goalkeeper Top Colour Stats
An unusual colour, White, let in one goal while Blue keeps a clean sheet.

The full table will be reprinted later this month.
Reflections on Groundhopping in Estonia
Close followers will be aware that I had originally booked and paid for a stay in Tartu on Friday night so I had to switch hotels at the last minute because of a fixture change.  I will put that loss down to experience and pay a slightly higher room rate in future to keep the free cancellation option.  In the end I stayed at Hotels Susi and Ülemiste and would be happy to recommend both.  I fly back tomorrow at noon having seen four games and spent Saturday morning exploring the old city.

I flew from Stansted with Ryanair and hired a compact car with Alamo, and everything went smoothly.  I am glad I added a SatNav – life would have been difficult as a solo traveller without it.  In the end the car got me and my luggage to the hotels and stayed there except for the Sunday trip to Ahtme which would have been difficult otherwise.  Driving in Tallinn was reasonably straightforward compared with other places I have been!  For city tourism, the best advice is to buy a green Tallinn Transport card for 2 euros and then top it up online.  The cards are available from the R-Kiosks.  I paid 3 euros plus the card fee for my Saturday travelling.  You are then free to travel on the buses and trams for a maximum of 3 euros per day.  I’d say if you are not going out of Tallinn then don’t bother with a car – the airport is almost walking distance from the city centre!  Download a decent transport map to your phone before you travel.

I walked to FC Infonet, took the bus-and-tram to the national stadium complex, and the car to Ahtme.  Tickets were not a problem – I paid 11 euros including two programmes for the two top tier games and the two lower-league ones were free admission.  Facilities at FC Infonet were basic but present, facilities at the national stadium were good.  I didn’t see any frills at either of the lower level games.  Three of the games were on artificial surfaces, but were probably better for it.

Crowds were small but the games were competitive, with all results in doubt either throughout the game or until well into the second half.  Next time I would pay for a suitcase rather than stick to hand luggage – I needed another layer on the legs!  Woolly hats, gloves and plenty of layers are needed at this time of year– it was either very wet or very cold at every game I attended.  It was all very safe.

The fixture calendar is likely to give plenty of opportunities for multi-game weekends, with plenty in and around Tallinn itself.  The city his very photogenic, and there are lots of people trying to do their photographic thing.  I’d like to go again to pay more attention to some of the culture and history.  Thanks to you the readers for the mentions and retweets.  I love this hobby.

Edit: I should have added that the Estonian Football Association website was my biggest source of information.  It was updated quickest, and was invaluable in pinning down late date switches, and the times and venues for the lower-league fixtures.  The Google translation from Estonian is quirky to say the least but it is possible to extract the key facts.
What Next?
Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!  I suspect work commitments will take over again soon enough but I would like to reach the 600 mark sooner rather than later!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

I Can't Believe it's not a Flora Win

... which means "Thank You!"

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 29 October 2016 at i) A Le Coq Arena and ii) Sportland Arena
FC Flora Tallinn 3 JK Sillamäe Kalev 3
Trummi SK Kohila 0 Raasiku FC Joker II 2
Premium Liiga (Estonian top tier)
IV Liiga Playoff (Estonian 6th tier)
Grounds 596 & 597 are adjacent so the KO times of 4pm and 6pm can be done..
Pre-match preparation
I spent the morning walking and taking photos in Tallinn’s old town, and I have to say I want to go back one day and give the city some more time.  Then I purchased a day travelcard for the trams and buses.  I’d decided to leave the car parked at the hotel.

Infonet’s win last night means that the first game is a must-win for Flora, otherwise their chances of the title would disappear.  Two other sides are in the same position elsewhere today.  Their visitors are secure in mid-table.   Flora play on grass at the national stadium.

The second game is the playoff between the winners of the two (east/west) regions of the IV Liiga.  Sportland is an adjacent artificial pitch, part of the same complex.
These matches in one sentence each
Flora did not turn possession into goals and their title challenge is over after a six-goal stalemate.
FC Joker scored a good goal to break their stalemate and added a second for good measure as Trummi were forced to press forward.
So what?
The easy part is that FC Joker II will move up to III Liiga while Trummi, as they say, go again next season.  The hard part is explaining what will happen in the top tier.  The top four teams play each other next week and both the title and the Europa League places will be decided.  Infonet are away at Nömme Kalju.  If Infonet win, they win the league.  If Nömme Kalju win, then they win the league unless FC Levadia have also beaten Flora.  Wins for both would see the title decided between them on whatever tie-breaker the league uses.  FC Levadia can win the league outright if they win and the Infonet/ Nömme Kalju game is a draw.  Flora cannot win the title, but a victory over Levadia would give them a Europa League place and push Levadia into fourth.  A draw would still be enough for Infonet if the other game is a draw or a Flora win.  There’ll be a test later.
The drama unfolds
I was mildly surprised at the colour clash between the five (!) orange officials and the Flora goalkeeper.  A crowd of around 150 occupied parts of one end and one wing of the ground, with all the noise coming from behind the goal.  Flora generally took the initiative and had most of the possession, but it was clear early on that the visitors were prepared for a battle.  Flora midflelder Mihkel Ainsalu gave the officials a decision to make after half an hour when he powered into the box and claimed a trip.  Nothing doing, said the ref.  Flora remained patient but they could not break the deadlock.  0-0 at half-time

Flora started the second half at pace and it needed two goal-line clearances to keep them out.  They look the lead with an excellent goal, a curling right-footer from Maksim Gussev.  1-0 after 64 mins

I have to own up to a moment of distraction with the news of Manchester City going two up at West Brom (two hours time difference, remember) so I missed the build up to Evgeny Kabaev’s equaliser.  He wears 99 on his shirt, that is for sure.  1-1 after 68 mins

Flora restored their lead almost immediately.  Keeper Eduard Orehov could only palm a right-wing cross on to the head of Markus Jürgenson.  2-1 after 69 mins

The game’s hinge point came shortly afterwards when Flora’s Rauno Sappinen curled a left footed shot on to the base of the post, but it seemed to matter not when substitute Sakari Tukiainen received the ball on the left of the area, cut inside and poked home as the keeper advanced.  3-1 after 80 mins

Flora’s season then fell to bits in ten minutes.  Firstly, Kabaev broke free on the left and gave a tap-in across the box for Aleksandrs Solovjovs.  3-2 after 83 mins

Then Kabaev himself got the equaliser as the game entered stoppage time, and there was no time for further drama.  Final score 3-3

A short walk across the car park took me to the next game, which started almost immediately in front of about a dozen hardy spectators.  Several players were wearing woolly hats themselves, as the temperature was dropping sharply.  Sportland is the first ground on my list to have clearly visible train lines at both ends!  Anyhow, the first half was played in a good spirit with plenty of worthy effort but no real chances.  Trummi’s Brazilian, Bruno, had the best chance but a defender got back just in time.  0-0 at half-time

I was getting colder and colder so the prospect of extra-time and the dreaded penalties was beginning to play on my mind.  Fortunately a neat Joker move down the left presented number 13 with the chance for a deft finish with the outside of his right foot.  They added a second five minutes later, also fashioned down the left, and the ball was rolled in to the corner.  Final score 0-2
Ground Pix

First sight of the main stadium with Sportland in the foreground

Sportland taken from the concourse of the main stadium

Children's football-related artwork is strung along the concourse

The crowd grew by a few more just after kickoff ...

Match Pix
Flora in green...

... and Trummi SK are in yellow.

Other than that, I only took one short scene-setter video-clip in the respective first halves.

Learn Estonian Through Football
Väravavahid – goalkeepers
Kaitsjad – defenders
Poolkaitsjad – midfielders
Ründajad – strikers
Peatreener – head coach
Abitreener – assistant coach
Kaks-null – two-nil
Laupäev - Saturday
Goalkeeper Top Colour Stats
In the first game, orange and black keepers let in three each.
In the second, a blue keeper keeps a clean sheet and a red one lets in a couple.

The full table will be reprinted later this month.
What Next?
Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!  The provisional plan is to head for a fourth-tier playoff to the east of Tallinn.  This is instead of a second-tier game with nothing riding on it.

Friday, 28 October 2016

There's Only One Teeming Tallinn

Marginal collateral programme damage - not bad under the circumstances, trust me!

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Friday 28 October 2016 at Lasnamäe Stadium
FC Infonet Tallinn 3 Paide Linnameeskond 1
Premium Liiga (Estonian top tier)
Ground 595 and my first in Estonia.
Pre-match preparation
Originally this game was scheduled for tomorrow.  The unexpected switch with a fixture in Tartu has cost me a few euros in hotel fees but that will have to go down to experience.  Infonet are league leaders with two games to go, leading three other teams by two points.  A win tonight and they could seal the title on other results tomorrow, but that seems unlikely and the race will almost certainly go down to the wire next week.  The visitors have nothing to play for either way so all results are possible especially if nervousness sets in.  I arrived in Tallinn this morning and type this from a nearby hotel room two hours before kickoff.  It has been raining incessantly all day and I abandoned other touristic activity.  Groundhopping isn’t always glamour and bright lights.  To be fair, you are more likely to get bright lights than glamour.
This match in one sentence
Vital result for Infonet from a game played in awkward weather conditions with the result in doubt except for the last five minutes.
So what?
Infonet extend their lead and keep the title destiny in their own hands.  It is up to three other sides tomorrow to keep the race alive until the final week of the season.
The drama unfolds
A crowd of round about 200 watched Infonet make the early running.  However, their first goal had a hint of fortune – they scored on the break after Paide’s first decent attack of the game had given them a corner.  Sergei Mošnikov rounded the keeper to the right and rolled the ball into an empty net.  1-0 after 16 min

The weather conditions were pretty vile.  A swirling wind was interspersed with periods of driving rain.   Infonet’s keeper Mihhail Lavrentjev soon had to make a double save as Paide tried to strike back immediately.  They eventually levelled after another corner.  Lavrentjev couldn’t fully clear and the ball fell to Joosep Juha who smashed it home.  1-1 after 32 min

Infonet started to show signs of nerves even though they restored their territorial advantage quickly enough.  In stoppage time Paide broke the offside line and Juri Jevdokimov was through.  He shot into the side netting under pressure and that, there, was the game’s “what if?” moment.  1-1 at half-time

The weather continued to be awful and the game was interesting more because of its importance and its balance rather than its technical merit.  It was like many of the games I saw in the Faroes, played at a high tempo on an artificial surface.  Only one person was brave enough to watch from  the balconies, and he didn’t last the pace.  Vladimir Voskoboinikov had a great chance to settle the nerves after 53 minutes but the Paide keeper Kert Kütt saved with his legs.  Just after the hour, Infonet made a substitution just before a corner.  It was an inspired move as number 9 Jevgeni Harin scored with his first touch.  2-1 after 61 mins

The game became tetchy. There were several handbag moments with yellow cards to match.  Paide looked just as dangerous.  Then, influential Infonet playmaker Sergey Tumasyan, who had never shied away from the ball all evening, met a clearance with a first-time shot that nestled in the net, off the bar.  A great goal to settle the result of the game.  It seems to have been his first appearance in over a month.  3-1 after 85 mins and at full-time
Ground Pix

Infonet have a mascot.  Hello, Beastie.

Match Pix
Best camera was left safely in the warm, dry hotel room but here is a very short clip to give you an idea of first-half conditions.  The blogpost title is a reference to a famous non-event involving Scotland, by the way.

Learn Estonian Through Football
Liiga tabel – league table
Punkti – points
Väravakütid – scorers
Otseülekanded – live broadcast
Penktadienis – Friday
Goalkeeper Top Colour Stats
Both keepers wore orange this evening.
Full table will be reprinted later this month.
What Next?
Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!  The provisional plan is to head initially for the game at second-placed Flora.