Estonia: Two-goal hero Konstantin Vassiljev full of praise for Northern Ireland progress

Estonia's Konstantin Vassiljev scores a penalty in 2011 against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Estonia's Konstantin Vassiljev scores a penalty in 2011 against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
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Estonia midfielder Konstantin Vassiljev has credited Northern Ireland with taking huge strides forward since the last time the two sides met in 2011.

Vassiljev scored a brace when Estonia beat Northern Ireland 2-1 at Windsor Park in a World Cup qualifier eight years ago, and could feature again when the two sides meet tonight in their opening Euro 2020 qualifying match.

Estonia may have been victorious in 2011 but Northern Ireland have made the most progress since, with Michael O’Neill appointed two months after that defeat and guiding the team to Euro 2016 qualification.

“Of course for us it was a great evening, not only because of the result but the way we played,” the 34-year-old Vassiljev said this week. “It will stay forever in our heads and I hope tomorrow will be the same.

“I think now (Northern Ireland) are more self-confident. Eight years ago, I think we were more or less in the same position but they have improved their game and got a good result when they went to Euro 2016.

“They have had this good experience, this good emotion and they want to be good in this qualification campaign.

“Tomorrow they will be the favourite but if we show our best qualities I think we can get our chances.”

Manager Martin Reim is braced for a tough fight against a “physical” Northern Ireland team.

He said: “Of course I don’t know what Michael is thinking for tomorrow but we have seen in the last six games, home and away, they are very physical, very straight in their minds and it will be a big fight in the field.

“We have our own plan on how to play but a plan is always good in theory.

“We have to see on the field if it is working or not. But we came here to get a good result and we will try to do everything to achieve that.”

Like Northern Ireland, Estonia finished bottom of their Nations League group last year, competing a level below in League C, but they finished the campaign with an encouraging 1-0 away win over Greece.