Vidic quits international football while Estonia bask in Euro 2012 play-off berth

Serbia stumble against Slovenia allowing one of European football's minnows to qualify for the Euro 2012 play-offs.

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TALLINN // European football minnows Estonia were ecstatic after taking a step closer to an unprecedented European Championships berth as qualification rivals Serbia stumbled.

"Super! Unbelievable! Historic!" roared the daily newspaper Eesti Paevaleht, after the unheralded Baltic nation won a slot in the Euro 2012 play-offs due to Serbia's 1-0 defeat by Slovenia.

Manager Tarmo Ruutli's men have now ventured further in a major international competition than any other team from the nation of 1.3 million.

"For such a small nation like Estonia to reach the play-offs is something very special," Mihkel Uiboleht, the Estonian football association spokesman, said.

After last Friday's 2-1 win away to Northern Ireland, Estonia overtook Serbia to move into second spot in Group C behind the already-qualified Italy.

But with the Serbs having a game in hand it was a nervous wait for Estonia.

They took to home turf in Tallinn last night for a friendly with Ukraine, co-hosts of Euro 2012 along with Poland.

That game ended 2-0 in the visitors' favour, but with the final whistle only minutes before kick off in Slovenia, home players and fans stayed on in their capital's A Le Coq Arena to watch their rivals' match on a big screen.

"We were so nervous all the time," said Uiboleht. "Everybody was struggling to fight back tears because it was a very historic moment."

After June's shock 2-0 away loss to the Faroe Islands — the weakest team in the group — Estonia looked to have blown their chances.

"The men mobilised themselves very strongly after that," the former international turned Estonia goalkeeping coach Mart Poom told the daily Postimees.

Estonia turned the tables, winning their final three group matches, with two of the victories away, including the victory against Northern Ireland.

Serbia's shock exit left Nemanja Vidic and Dejan Stankovic indicating that they will retire from the national team.

Vidic, the Manchester United defender, missed a penalty the defeat to Slovenia.

Vidic, 29, said "it's time for a change of generations and for some older players to say goodbye to the Serbian jersey."

Stankovic, who is 33, said: "I played many matches, helped the national team and it's time for me to turn to my tasks with Inter Milan." S

tankovic played his 102nd match for Serbia, tying the record by Savo Milosevic. Vidic has 56 caps.

The draw for next month's play-offs takes place tomorrow in the Polish city of Kraków.

Besides Estonia, the other nations in the pot are Bosnia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Ireland, Montenegro, Portugal and Turkey.

Estonia are unfazed.

"Obviously we have no pressure going into the play-offs. Our whole qualification process has been a success no matter what happens in November," said Uiboleht.

After lying as low as 137th in football governing body Fifa's rankings in 2008, Estonia currently stand at an all-time high of 58.

Fifa classed them as best mover of September 2011 as they jumped 28 notches.

In March they achieved arguably their biggest ever result, beating the 2010 World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay 2-0 in Tallinn.

Estonia only returned to international football in 1992 after the end of five decades of Soviet rule.

The game is the poor relation in a nation where cross-country skiers have long been the big-name stars.

Yesterday's results

Group A
Kazakhstan 0-0 Austria
Germany 3-1 Belgium
Turkey 1-0 Azerbaijan

Group B
Ireland 2-1 Armenia
Macedonia 1-1 Slovakia
Russia 6-0 Andorra

Group C
Italy 3-0 Northern Ireland
Slovenia 1-0 Serbia

Group D
Albania 1-1 Romania
France 1-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Group E
Hungary 0-0 Finland
Moldova 4-0 San Marino
Sweden 3-2 Netherlands

Group F
Croatia 2-0 Latvia
Georgia 1-2 Greece
Malta 0-2 Israel

Group G
Bulgaria 0-1 Wales
Switzerland 2-0 Montenegro

Group H
Denmark 2-1 Portugal
Norway 3-1 Cyprus

Group I Lithuania 1-4 Czech Republic

Spain 3-1 Scotland