“At least David had a slingshot, we don’t even have one of those.” Such is the assessment, by their own manager, of the task facing Estonia’s women’s team as they face the Goliath of England this afternoon, the Lionesses’ first match since coming third in the summer’s World Cup. That manager is Englishman Keith Boanas, twice a contender to coach his own nation, now trying to lift Estonia’s status in the women’s game from non-entities to minnows.
Boanas’s opening matches in charge featured two 12-0 defeats, to France and Iceland. Progress has been such that Thursday’s 1-0 reverse to Serbia, in their opening Euro 2017 qualifying tie, was disappointing. But even though under Boanas’s direction the number of female players in Estonia has doubled in six years, that still only provides a talent pool of 1,000, many of whom are very young or relatively new to the game.
Nor does Boanas have anything like the resources and opportunities of his opposite number, Mark Sampson. “We’re 20 years behind England. People here think it is not natural for girls to play football, parents don’t encourage it. While England have had five days in the luxury of St George’s Park, five of my players played on Thursday night, then went to work on Friday. Training has to be fitted around work commitments – if my players want time off they have to take it unpaid, there’s no respect for being national team players.”
England is the best and worst of fixtures for Boanas, who managed Charlton, winning the FA Cup, and Millwall when working in England and nearly returned three years ago to take over Lincoln Ladies (now Notts County). On the one hand it is a great opportunity to promote the women’s game in Estonia – a girl’s football festival has been arranged around the fixture – and to meet old friends such as former players Casey Stoney, Eni Aluko and Jo Potter. On the other there is a danger of his unpaid part-timers being hammered by a confident England team.
Boanas insisted: “I won’t be parking the bus, not unless we somehow score first. What is the point of that for their development? I will be encouraging them to play with some freedom.”
Sampson, however, expects deep defence. Either way an England side with seven changes from the World Cup adventure, largely due to injury issues, should find gaps to exploit. Isobel Christiansen, of Manchester City, has been given her first call-up, rewarded for her strong form. Sampson has already targeted victory in the finals and will be expecting England to start their campaign with a handsome win. He is unlikely to be disappointed.Reuse content