Kerr picks perfect place to stand ground

 

SOCCER EURO 2012 QUALIFYING: GAVIN CUMMISKEYtalks to Faroe Islands manager Brian Kerr about his secret weapon – Svangaskard Stadium

THE SVANGASKARD stadium is nestled beneath the sloping village of Toftir. It seems like the farthest reaches of the known world.

Probably because it is.

Some time back in the depths of his first permanently dark winter on the Faroe Islands, manager Brian Kerr had a moment of clarity. Let’s drag our opponents up to this splendid isolation! The locals immediately understood the intention.

Just like Northern Ireland before them, Estonia were too late grasping the consequences of this undulating journey under tunnels and over bridges to the island of Eysturoylast on Tuesday. They departed with chills to their very core and a haunting 2-0 defeat chiselled into the Uefa history books.

“Since I’ve started we’ve played four matches in Toftir. We’ve won two, drawn one and lost one, so I think that tells the story,” said Kerr from his second home, Copenhagen Airport, yesterday.

Svangaskard is a wonderful stadium so long as you view it in an aerial photograph while you are wrapped in a blanket near a blazing fire.

“The opposition are put off by the most scenic drive imaginable from Torshavn. It is only an hour but not the sort of thing that professional footballers expect to do on the day of a match.”

Kerr quickly realised the rugged panorama would be an advantage; it would foster a siege mentality so readily embraced by his players who hail from this isolated sprinkling of islands in the heart of the North Atlantic Gulf stream.

“There is a sense of unreality for visiting teams,” Kerr explains. “But we have got to have it like this for us to have any chance to bridge the gap between the standard of player.”

Under tunnels and over bridges went the Estonia team bus. “They couldn’t but be thinking, ‘where the hell they are going to put a pitch in all this’.”

And then it appears in a village of 823 inhabitants.

Kerr believes 2,000 supporters turned out for Tuesday’s game. “That’s almost five per cent of the population. You can’t be saying 20 minutes beforehand, ‘Ah, I’ll head down’. There is no cover in the stadium so you need big heavy gear. It is a trek.

“The opposition don’t like going up to train the day before as it takes an hour to get up and an hour back to the hotel in Torshavn. So they don’t experience the pitch until match-day. And it’s a tight pitch,” he cheerfully continued.

The settlement of Toftir harks back to the Norse men. Wikipedia tells us that all but one woman survived the Black Death (1348-50) so we imagine only a hardened race could exist here.

Such resilience was called upon when a 10-man Estonia unloaded their full arsenal on Tuesday night.

“They had to come at us but we had the disappointment of conceding two goals in injury time in Estonia (when they lost 2-1 last August). That was in the players’ heads and they were not prepared to let it slip when they started throwing big men forward.

“We were actually very disappointed after Friday,” Kerr continued.

“Slovenia, having played in the World Cup, are a very solid team but we deserved more than we got.”

They lost 2-0.

“Last night we were in control for large parts of the game because they were down to 10 men after 25 minutes. It was unusual for us to have so much possession but, funnily enough, myself and John (McDonnell) had worked in training on how we would use possession. Don’t think it will happen again any time soon. Normally we play fairly constantly on the retreat. But we were controlled.

“Our young, 41-year-old goalkeeper (Jakup Mikkelsen) was brilliant when he really had to be. We got a break for the penalty before half-time. We scored that and we were away.”

The second goal came on 47 minutes when Arnbjorn Hansen buried the rebound of another Frodi Benjaminsen penalty.

“When I started this job, I was realistic by saying one good day in 10 is the best we can hope for, but secretly I was thinking, if we get better, we can get it to one good day in six. Now we are unbeaten in two of our last three games.

“The result has filled everyone up to the brim with hope. You could sense it today before we left. The staff were saying everyone across the Faroes was buzzing this morning.”

They will be naming a hilltop after him if he keeps this up.

The perfectly-manicured Italians make the treacherous journey to Toftir on September 2nd, but next up is a trip to Windsor Park on August 10th, where Nigel Worthington’s side will seek to avenge last October’s draw.

“It’s a big, big match for Northern Ireland. Big pitch in Belfast too. They should hammer us if they put out their best team. What we saw in Dublin recently wasn’t anything near their best side.”