UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Estonia have never been closer to qualifying for the European Championship. But the international future of one of their top players, New York Red Bulls midfielder Joel Lindpere, remains very much in the air as of Thursday, the same day the Baltic nation drew the Republic of Ireland in a two-leg playoff in mid-November for a spot in Euro 2012.
Having refused any international call-ups since last summer, Lindpere remained non-committal in his stance towards playing for his national team in its highest-stakes match since it regained FIFA status 19 years ago.
Coming in second in a competitive Group C in Euro qualifying, Estonia surprised many by finishing behind Italy and ahead of favored nations such as Serbia and Slovenia in the Euro 2012 group stage. On Thursday, Lindpere said that he had not been contacted by the Estonian Football Federation for possible inclusion in the squad to play Ireland.
“No, no, not yet,” Lindpere said. “I know this can come, but I’m really proud of what they have done and I think we’re going to have the [MLS] playoffs at the same time. I’m following every game, what they do. For me, it’s not the best time to discuss these things. I’m going to keep concentrating on my work here and let’s see what’s going to happen in the future.”
Lindpere, who turned 30 years old on Oct. 5, has been capped 74 times by his country but has not responded to any call-ups since debuting in MLS last year. Next month's two-leg playoff is scheduled for Nov. 12 and 15, dates in which the league will take a break during the MLS Cup playoffs between the Conference Championships (Nov. 5-6) and the MLS Cup final (Nov. 20).
If the Red Bulls do not reach MLS Cup, Lindpere's club obligations will be finished for the 2011 season; if New York do qualify, they'll have two weeks between games, creating an interesting conundrum for Lindpere if Estonia come calling. Lindpere declined to comment Thursday when asked if he'd be interested in accepting a potential call-up.
Reports from Europe indicate that Estonia team manager Aivar Pohlak will be speaking to Lindpere via Skype in the coming days in the hope of convincing the Red Bulls midfielder to rejoin the squad.
"He can get in touch when he has time," Estonia head coach Tarmo Rüütli told Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR News). "We'll see. We don't have a lot of resources – when someone offers us a helping hand, then I think we can take it."