The party almost turned into a drama, but Finland is not to blame. Last Saturday, the “Country of Santa Claus” became the 34th nation to participate in a European Nations Championship (North Macedonia became the 35th the next day) by facing Denmark. A match marked by Christian Eriksen’s heart failure. In a meeting that quickly became anecdotal given that the health of the Inter Milan player was a priority, Finland experienced an astonishing entry into the running. Finally, Christian Eriksen found himself in a stable state – and is better now – which allowed the meeting to resume at 8:30 p.m. Against a stunned and emotionally touched Danish team, Finland created a sensation by winning 1-0 thanks to Joël Pohjanpalo (59th). A goal that was not celebrated, just like this historic victory given the context. However, Finland can be proud because it is a long-term job that is thus rewarded.
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Markku Kanerva the architect
Country where hockey and motorsport come to the fore, football is however in the process of making a place for itself. Finland has had legends like Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä before, but this is the first time the country has reached the finals of a competition after 32 failures in qualifying. And this participation, she owes in part to a man: Markku Kanerva. 57 years old, this one likes the first times. When he was a player, he took part in the first group stage of the Champions League (new formula) for a Finnish club with HJK Helsinki. At the head of the Finnish Hopes between 2004 and 2009, he qualified this team for the group stage in 2009 for the first time in its history. Finally, he qualified the A for Euro 2020 at the end of a process started in December 2016. From assistant to coach, he quickly found the formula with a 4-4-2 flexible in 3-5-2 and the results are solid with 24 victories (France, Sweden, Hungary, Iceland and Morocco on the hunting table in particular), 7 draws and 17 defeats in 48 matches.
Relying in particular on Jukka Raitala, Tim Sparv, Teemu Pukki and Joona Toivio with whom he took part in Euro U21 in 2009, he built a group which had not been done by his predecessors. “That’s the fun part of this current success. Finland did indeed have better players and a better team on paper between 2008 and 2017 compared to the current one. It is difficult to say what was missing then. It’s easier to say what’s good now. The team operates as a tightly knit unit now, each doing their own job well. Finland defend better and have developed possession of the ball while eliminating the advantages of their opponents. He (Markku Kanerva, editor’s note) was able to develop with his assistants a good solid strategy for this team and they were also successful with their playing tactics. They were able to disarm their opponents ” Ari Virtanen journalist explained to us for Helsingin Sanomat at the time of Finnish qualification.
A match for history against Russia
With a very solid team with 10 goals conceded in 10 qualifying matches (4 in two matches against Italy and 2 in the last match against Greece where Finland was already qualified), Finland built its project slowly, but surely. . “The good performance of this team is based on defense. But I should also point out that they don’t just stick with a low block. Finland were able to develop intense pressing. And this team defends from the start with their attackers, Teemu Pukki and all their partners. They have been able to reduce over the past two years the time spent by the opponent in the last third or the penalty area ” Ari Virtanen explained to us about the Hiboux Grand Ducs game project. With a good development of local football in recent years, the selection has become a source of pride. It’s simple, against Denmark, they were 2.3 million Finns watching the match on television, or 41% of the national population.
?? 2.3 million Finns watched their country’s first game in a major football competition against Denmark!
That is 41% of the population of 5.6 million inhabitants in the land of a thousand lakes.
Finland is increasingly becoming a football country ⚽ https://t.co/4Av6jJjg7K
– Nordisk Football (@NordiskFootball) June 13, 2021
A trajectory that is very reminiscent of another Nordic formation, Iceland. Quarter-finalists in 2016, the islanders impressed by dominating Austria and England while hanging on Portugal and Hungary. A solid course that also led Iceland to the 2022 World Cup the following year. A parallel that is understandable even if Ari Virtanen considers that the play of the two teams is the main difference: “There are similarities if you look at the career history of the players. But Finland is playing in a slightly different way. The game is not as straightforward as Iceland’s. ” If the qualification is not yet acquired, the epic is not a fantasy since a point could be necessary in the face of Russia (June 16) and Belgium (June 21). Precisely, the match against Russia has all of a historical shock. Belonging for 108 years to the Russian Empire before obtaining its independence on December 6, 1917 following the end of the domination of the Romanovs on Russian power, Finland has always had tensions with its neighbor as during World War II with the Winter War or during the Cold War. Far from this political aspect, Finland wants to make this meeting a celebration and it has 90 minutes to continue to create the feat.