Estonian national football team’s greatest goalmaker Andres Oper plays career’s final game as, on Lilleküla stadium in Tallinn, Estonia and Gibraltar settle for 1:1.
«Andres Oper! Andres Oper! Andres Oper!» chanted the crowds as the whistle went off and Estonia went against Gibraltar in a game to celebrate the end of Mr Oper’s career. The ovations were repeated as the man left the field. As well as when he again walked towards the bench to watch the second half.
The day before, captain Ragnar Klavan vowed to wait for Mr Oper while headed towards an empty net. Indeed, from the very start it was obvious the team was seeking to pass to the forward with record 38 goals under his belt for Estonia. And although Mr Klavan was the man who took Estonia into a 1:0 lead after a corner kick, on minute 31st, Mr Oper had his share of opportunities before that.
With his speed and form not the best-days-level, understandably, Mr Oper had not lost his striker instincts and kept finding the right spots to be at, sowing a measure of confusion into opponent defence. Even so, as the best window opened up after an excellent pass, lack of practice surfaced as the ball slipped to Gibraltarian goalkeeper.
«Either the pass was long, or maybe my speed was not what it used to be,» smiled Mr Oper, remembering the excellent opportunity. He did have two more decent tries, though. While Mr Oper was on the field, the game was not so much about the result, as it was for creating opportunities for the veteran among them.
«T’was great! Memorable. Couldn’t cross my T with a goal, but I did manage to make some situations,» said the merry-looking Mr Oper, at half time. «But with no training for a year, the form ain’t what it used to be. Still got the instinct, as the moments happened,» he added.
Mr Oper admitted it was one emotional game. «Sure, but note totally different than the usual before a game,» said the striker, confessing it was still difficult for him to make peace with the thought of career ending. «I didn’t want to think of this being the last game, but it was.»
While many an Estonian fan expected the 17 years old hopeful Frank Liivak to replace Mr Oper in the game, Sander Post entered at minute 36th. «That was agreed before,» said Mr Oper. As we know, these same men proved mighty at Indrek Zelinski’s final game Estonia beating Finland 2:0. Then, both Mr Oper and Mr Post scored.
Leaving the field, all team-mates took turns to congratulate Mr Oper; to the ovations of the crowd, the man left the arena – for the last time in the national uniform. «The team-mates congratulated me and wished me well,» he said cheerfully.
Mr Liivak did enter however, just a few moments later. Sadly, the reason was Enar Jääger getting injured.
Though Mr Oper only had a few days with Estonia’s new coach Magnus Pehrsson, he liked the man. «Does it thorough,» Mr Oper said about the Swede. «During these days, he shared his vision and philosophy.»
After the grand (not so) old man left the field, Estonians scored no more. On minute 71st, however, Anthony Bardon did. And that’s the way the game ended, at 1:1. The next game for Estonia, now without Mr Oper, will happen this Thursday playing Latvia in a semi-final of the Baltic Cup.