IT may be two years away and a long way from the thoughts of the European participants at the World Cup finals this month, but the qualifying tournament for the 2000 European Championship began on Thursday.
Eight years ago, when the Faroes made their debut in the event, Jens Knudsen, their goalkeeper, became a hero far beyond the shores of the windswept North Atlantic islands. Wearing his white woolly hat, he kept a heroic clean sheet as the Faroes beat Austria 1-0 in a qualifier staged in Landskrona, Sweden, for the 1992 Championship played in the same country.
On Thursday, though, in Tallinn, Knudsen was a villain rather than a hero. With the Faroes already 1-0 down, following an early goal from Kristen Viikmae, to Estonia in the opening Euro 2000 qualifier, the goalkeeper dragged down Indrek Zelinski in the penalty area in the 41st minute. A red card, and then a penalty converted by Martin Reim, followed.
Knudsen's replacement in goal, Jakup Mikkelsen, was beaten three more times in the second half by Sergei Terehhov, Andres Oper and Urmas Kirs to give the Estonians a 5-0 victory.
The match at the Kadriorg stadium was played, Scottish fans might like to learn, in daylight. A year and a day after Thursday's fixture, the Scots are due to return to Tallinn - the scene of their famous 'match that never was' - for another European Championship qualifier.
THE civil servants, firemen, insurance salesman, students and the other part-timers who make up Andorra's national team will be able to dine out on the events of Wednesday for weeks to come.
In the shabby surroundings of the Stade Municipal de St Ouen, the home of Red Star Paris, the Andorrans took on mighty Brazil in a France 98 warm-up match for the world champions.
Before the game the press were checking their history books for Brazil's record win (10-1 against Bolivia in 1949). A thrashing of similar proportions was predicted - but in the event the South Americans only managed a 3- 0 victory with goals from Giovanni, Rivaldo and Cafu.
It was almost a triumph for little Andorra - even though Brazil seemed more concerned with establishing a new record of how many passes a team could string together without losing possession, rather than rattling goals past their opponents' defence.
The match, televised live back in Brazil, was arranged with only 10 days' notice. Justo Ruiz, one of Andorra's players, said: "When we heard it was a reality, we went absolutely crazy with delight. I never thought I would have the chance to play against the world champions. And it wasn't the whirlwind we expected."
Ruiz only had one big disappointment - most of the Brazilians refused to swap their shirts after the match. "I could have chased after one of them, but I have my pride as well," he said.