Shell-shocked Ruutli going through the emotions


If there is any fight still left in this Estonia side, it’s being bottled up for the pitch tonight, writes CARL O'MALLEY

BY MOST accounts Estonia manager Tarmo Ruutli is a jovial enough character when there’s not a journalist in sight but his demeanour yesterday was that of a man jaded by a weekend of solemn reflection.

He approached each question as if he had repeatedly asked them of himself since Friday night’s 4-0 defeat, and had yet to come up with any satisfactory answers, taking an age to reply at times while animatedly attempting to exorcise the memories with sighs of exasperation.

On either side of him, midfielder Taijo Teniste and forward Kaimar Saag bore the middle-distance stares of men suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Neither player was even involved in Tallinn, but they share the hurt.

If there is fight still left in them, it’s being bottled up for the privacy of the dressingroom and the pitch tonight.

“This is not an easy game, of course,” Ruutli began. “Two games in a row and the first result was really bad, so from our side you can say that maybe, maybe, maybe . . . Irish team deserved it more to go to the finals. But anyway, a game is a game and we start again from 0-0 and will try to show interesting football and not just be there on the pitch.”

Notwithstanding the suspensions of central defenders Andrei Stepanov and Raio Piiroja, both red-carded by Viktor Kassai in the first leg, and goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko who picked up a booking, Ruutli insists the plan hasn’t changed that much.

They come to Dublin to win and in the hope fate can intervene in their favour this time, so they can prove they “deserved a place in the play-off”.

“If not four, then at least some, of course,” he said when asked if his side had the fire-power to overturn Robbie Keane’s brace and goals from Jonathan Walters and Keith Andrews.

“We will try and score and create more possibilities than we did in the home game.

“We try to give our best and make the evening interesting for the thousands that come to the games. Maybe Ireland will qualify but it doesn’t matter, you go and try to win the game and this is what we will do tomorrow.”

The locals on Friday were clearly of a mind the result was engineered, at least in part, by Kassai’s decision-making, but Ruutli gave no hint he shared that opinion, insisting “some personal mistakes” played as much of a role in their downfall.

“We cannot say we lost the last game because the referee did something wrong. The first two goals were lost duels in the air. The referee cannot score for us.”

Away wins over Serbia, Slovenia and Northern Ireland in the group stages suggest a result can be achieved against Giovanni Trapattoni’s side.

“That is one of the things we can think. We have this experience in some games and we did well in some games, so why not repeat it?”

He is realistic enough, however, to know, much like Ireland before the arrival of the Italian, Estonia are a side struggling for consistency.

“We are not at the level where success is guaranteed or have such a high class team but we can make some good games and lose sometimes to weaker teams. That is our level and we have to be happy with what we’ve achieved.”

Regardless of how this chapter in Estonian football ends and what it means for him, one senses Ruutli feels his side are nonetheless on the right path.