Jensen struggles to bridge Estonia resource chasm

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The Independent Online

Viggo Jensen, the Dane who now coaches Estonia's national team, is a thoughtful and rational fellow. As his depleted squad prepared to train yesterday on the Wembley turf where they will face England in today's Euro 2008 qualifier, he spoke in measured tones about the gulf that exists between the two sides – and made it clear that anything other than defeat for his men would be, well, a fairy tale.

Having accepted that earning a draw in the vast cradle of English football would represent the best result of his coaching career, Jensen added with the twinkle of a grin: "As I told someone before, I am from Hans Christian Andersen country. I come from Odense."

For Jensen's ambition to be realised, it does appear as if something magical will be required on behalf of the national side that has existed only since the establishment of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Having taken over in July from the Dutchman who presided over the 3-0 home defeat to England in June, Jelle Goes, he faces selection problems that make those of Steve McClaren appear insignificant.

Top scorer Andres Oper, and his rumbustious 6ft 2in forward partner Vladimir Voskoboinikov, are both absent with injury. At the other end of the pitch, a back problem has created doubts over the appearance of veteran goalkeeper Mart Poom – formerly of Portsmouth, Derby, Sunderland and Arsenal and now operating at the age of 35 for Watford.

"You could take the England team, and take one player away, and do it 11 times in a row," Jensen said. "And then you could say to Steve McClaren you have to take your best two players off and then go and play a game. Then you can compare a little bit to the players we have in Estonia.

"It is a team with more than 100 years of football culture against a young country where they have played for just 15 years together. It's very difficult. I hope you understand.

"I'm sure the England players will be up for this game tomorrow and in some way will try even harder to decide this game as early as possible. But I think you should try to play in your own way, not to think too much about opponents. You should try to do something out of yourself. You can't survive only if you are defending."

Asked if he and his players had seen much of England on video, he shrugged. "You can see too much about that, because I think you will get sick to see how good these players are. It's not some way of disrespect to the English team, for sure."

That viewpoint was echoed by two of his players – Poom, and centre back Andrei Stepanov, one of several players of Russian descent playing for the team.

"I think England and Croatia are the two strongest teams in the group," said Poom. "They look most dangerous going forward. England didn't have the best of starts, but their last two games against Israel and Russia were big performances. I'm pretty sure they will qualify."

Poom, who has earned 115 caps for his country, is desperate to earn his 116th today, and insisted he was "positive" that he would do so, even if it needed a pain-killing injection.

"It is very special because I have never played here before," he said. "It was my dream as a young boy. I used to watch the FA Cup final on television, and I have been here only as a spectator."

Should he take his place between the posts he will be anything but a spectator – but he maintains that his side, who have managed only a win over Andorra and a draw against Macedonia in their 10 qualifiers, will not have a defeatist attitude.

"You can't go to a game you think you lost already," Poom said. "To get a draw for us here would be like a win. It would be one of the best results ever for the Estonian team."

The players who had their run-out under grey north London skies here yesterday will have gained a measure of the task they now face. The A. Le Coq Arena in Tallin, where they succumbed to defeat against an England side inspired by the returning David Beckham, holds a capacity crowd of only 9,700.

But even though his side will be operating in a different world, Stepanov pinpointed one factor that he felt offered encouragement for the visitors. "We had problems in the first game with Beckham's crosses," he said. "I am glad he is not here. That is good for us."

With or without Beckham, McClaren's millionaires look certain to flourish in their new national playground. Should a fairy tale occur, however, it would need to look no further for its title than Hans Christian Andersen's most famous tale – The Emperor's New Clothes.

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