Preview: Estonia vs Cyprus – prediction, team news, rosters
Sports Mole previews Thursday’s Nations League clash between Estonia and Cyprus, including predictions, team news and possible line-ups.
To decide their UEFA Nations League out for the 2022-23 season, international minnows Estonia and Cyprus meeting on Thursday in Tallinn.
The competition’s first two-legged ‘play-outs’ will select which nation will remain in League C and which will be relegated to the lower tier of Europe.
With League C making up four groups while League D only has two, the two teams to be relegated are expected to be determined over the next week.
While the Faroe Islands and Gibraltar have already been promoted from League D, Cyprus – the second team of those taking part – will face the quartet’s third team, Estonia.
Ranked 106th in the world rankings, the Estonians recently ended their World Cup qualifying campaign second in Group E, with a tally of just four points from eight matches – narrowly enough to relegate Belarus to last place.
The Blueshirts racked up all their points last fall – hanging on to a draw with Wales in Cardiff before beating Belarus 2-0 at home – but were then comfortably eliminated by Belgium and the Czech Republic in of their last two matches.
On the contrary, their form in the last Nations League was a little worse, and only three points taken from six matches saw Karel Voolaidthe team ends up adrift at the bottom of Group 2 of League C; thus forcing them into this two-legged tie for survival.
Swiss coach Thomas Haberli has taken the helm since then, and the former Basel assistant will now aim to retain Estonia’s third-tier status, rather than joining nations like Andorra and San Marino in League D.
Ranked just one place above their Baltic counterparts in the FIFA World pecking order, Cyprus will have home advantage in next week’s second leg but will have to go to the A first. Tallinn’s Coq Arena looking for their first win in nearly a year.
Since defying all odds to beat Slovenia in March 2021, eight defeats and a draw have followed each other, so the Mediterranean minnows have certainly lost that feeling of victory.
Indeed, a six-game stretch leading up to October’s 2-2 draw with Malta saw Nikos KostenoglouThe team have gone 15 times without scoring, and their last defeats were a 6-0 thrashing against Russia and a 2-1 loss to Slovenia to conclude the World Cup qualifiers.
Only avoiding the bottom spot in qualifying Group H due to a slightly less terrible goal difference than Malta, the Cypriots actually finished bottom of League C Group 1 in the final Nations League, under the former coach. John Walem.
The only victory of this campaign saw Cyprus surrender Luxembourg with 10 players in November 2020, and they must now try to make amends by reclaiming their League C status.
Estonia Nations League Form:
Form Estonia (all competitions):
Cyprus Nations League Form:
Cypriot form (all competitions):
Thomas Haberli has called up a 26-man squad for action over the next few days, which will decide Estonia’s fate in the Nations League.
The experience continues to pave the way for Thursday’s hosts, with a veteran Konstantin Vassiljev still the team’s top scorer with 25 goals in 137 international caps, and the 37-year-old is set to start.
Captained by a 36-year-old former Liverpool defender Ragnar Klavanthe Blueshirts omitted the defender to 88 caps Taijo Teniste (34), and at the other end of the age spectrum, the teenage goalkeeper Karl Jacob Hein – currently on loan at Reading from Arsenal – is also dropping out.
IFK Gothenburg striker Erik Sorga is a younger option up front, but may have to settle for a place on the bench if Sergei Zenjov is chosen to join Rauno Sappinen.
Cyprus have named a 24-man squad, which includes the top active scorer Pieros Sotiriouwho has 11 international strikes to his name so far.
A recent regular with Serie A full-back Salernitana midfielder Grigoris Kastanos should also be an influential figure for the opposing team.
Meanwhile, St Mirren’s Alex Gogic – currently on loan at the Scottish Premiership club from Hibernian – has been left out so will not add to his seven senior caps this month.
Estonia possible starting composition:
Igonen; Paskotsi, Tamm, Mets; Puri, Kreida, Vassiljev, Poom, Sappinen; Zenjov, Anier
Possible starting line-up from Cyprus:
Dimitriou; Sotiriou, Laifis, Karo; Psaltis, Kastanos, Artymatas, Iouannou; Tzionis, Sotiriou, Papoulis
We say: Estonia 1-1 Cyprus
Neither nation is used to taking the initiative, given their low status and rare successes, so a provisional first game may end in a draw.
Both sides are prone to capitulating under pressure, however, so the likeliest outcome could be a draw – leaving the tie finely balanced before next week’s decider.