With a population of just 1.3 million, Estonia is one of Europe's smaller nations, but the Baltic state has shown often enough that their national team is not to be underestimated. The latest visitors to leave Tallinn with a bloody nose were Canada, defeated 2-0 in the Estonian capital at the end of March.

The task facing head coach Tarmo Ruutli is to maximise the potential of his strictly limited playing resources. One of the chief assets available to the coach since he took the reins last year is 30-year-old striker Andres Oper, on the books at Dutch top flight outfit Roda Kerkrade and Estonia's all-time top scorer with 33 goals in 108 internationals.

The burly hitman duly contributed a goal to his country's most recent competitive victory, a 2-0 away win against Andorra in mid-November last year, although the UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying success was ultimately to no avail as the Estonians finished second from bottom of their group behind FYR Macedonia, Israel, England and EURO contenders Russia and Croatia. Aside from two wins against Andorra, Estonia's only other point came from a 1-1 away draw with FYR Macedonia.

That was a meagre return compared to the 17 points amassed by the men from the Baltic in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, where the highlights of a creditable group campaign against Portugal, Slovakia, Russia, Latvia, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg were a 2-2 away draw and 2-1 home win against neighbouring Latvia, and a home draw with the Russians.

Big guns await

Estonia, yet to qualify for the finals of a major tournament, certainly face a stern test in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ after landing in Group 5 with Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina and Armenia. However, if the side captained by keeper Mart Poom of English club Watford can recapture the form they showed in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, a surprise or two may yet be in store.

Apart from the 2-0 victory against Canada, recent results include a defeat by the same score in Poland and a respectable scoreless draw away to Uzbekistan. That result, against the current surprise package in Asian qualifying for the 2010 finals, was a real morale-booster for the Eastern Europeans ahead of their own qualifying efforts.

Estonia have lined up a raft of friendlies in late May and early June this year. Georgia visit Tallinn on 27 May, before a double-header against Latvia and Lithuania in Riga on 30 and 31 May. Finally, the Faroe Islands are the visitors to Tallinn in early June.

The rush of matches some three weeks from now provides a fine opportunity for the Estonians to add to their current total of 267 ranking points, as 115th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking could yet prove a mere transit point on a steady upward journey.