Finland's Feat: Reaching Euro 2020—and Having Hope for More

Finland's Feat: Reaching Euro 2020—and Having Hope for More

The difference is down partly to the fact that the expanded format of the Euros offers an opportunity to more countries, but also a change of mentality. As Eero Laurila, a former journalist who is now a coach with third-division Finnish side Espoon Palloseura, points out, Finland used to specialize in individual sports: javelin, long-distance running, cross-country skiing and ski jump. That began to change with ice hockey, particularly after the “whiteboard revolution” that began to instill more integrated tactics led to an improvement in results, culminating in the world title in 2011, and has now been carried into football.

The result is a tight-knit, highly organized side, and it looked as though it had gotten off to a perfect start in St. Petersburg on Wednesday on its quest to make it two wins in two games. With Finland pressing in a way it hadn’t against Denmark, Jukka Raitala robbed Mario Fernandes on the right and crossed for Pohjanpalo to head powerfully past Matvei Safonov. There was nothing muted about his celebration this time, but a linesman’s flag ruled the goal out.

Thereafter it was back to the more expected Finnish approach, sitting deep, looking to absorb pressure and using Teemu Pukki on the break. Russia dominated possession without looking especially dangerous until, just before halftime, Aleksei Miranchuk exchanged passes with Artem Dzyuba and, with very little backlift, guided the ball into the top corner—a rare moment of quality after a largely ordinary half.

Finland had far more of the ball in the second half, but with Pukki far from fully fit and forced off after 76 minutes there was very little cutting edge, and the only real chance of the half fell the way of Russia’s Daler Kuzyaev, his low shot being well saved by Lukáš Hrádecký.

It may have been a reality check for Finland, but just being at the Euros is a major achievement on its own. And while taking even a point off Belgium will be a major challenge—Finland did beat France in a November 2020 friendly, for what it’s worth—there is still hope for its stay on a major stage to be extended.

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