Finland are one of two nations to be competing at a European tournament for the first time in their history. The Fins first entered qualifying for the Euros in 1968 but have had to wait over 50 years to make their bow – yet they’re unlikely to provide many upsets this summer.
Great Finnish players in history include Sami Hyypia, Jari Litmanen and Joonas Kolkka, yet it is only in the past few years that the national team has truly progressed. Teemu Pukki is Finland’s star forward who this summer could become their highest-ever goalscorer if he surpasses Litmanen’s 32 international strikes. Midfielder Tim Sparv is the rock in the centre of midfield and made his debut, like Pukki, back in 2009.
Finland reached the 2020 Finals by overcoming a group that included Italy, Greece, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Armenia and Lichtenstein. They finished second to earn automatic progress after crucially winning all their home games. Italy stormed Group J with 10 wins from 10 but it was Pukki who was the headline act in the group, scoring 10 goals for his country. In fact, Pukki accounted for 62.5% of Finland’s goals in qualifying.
Head coach Markku Kanerva deploys a 5-3-2 system that moulds to 4-4-2 when up against weaker opposition. The boss puts plenty of emphasis on defensive unity and relies on Jukka Raitala and Jere Uronen to do the running on the wings. The team is naturally geared up to support Pukki, while Glen Kamara and Robin Lod are also dangerous when advancing from midfield.
Finland’s 2020 tournament begins with a game against Denmark in Copenhagen on 12 June. They are also scheduled to play Russia and Belgium in St Petersburg, and for this reason the Finnish FA decided to base the team in the Baltic city. Success for Finland would be very similar to Iceland’s debut Euros five years ago, when they reached the quarter-finals and eliminated England. Escaping this group likely requires Finland to win at least one game – and that could come against Russia, as unlikely as that may sound.
Indeed, not only do the Finns have to play in opposition home stadiums against both Russia and Denmark, but the world’s top-ranked side Belgium will likely prove too much for Kanerva’s men. Defensive solidity will be key if they are to even scrape a draw in this group – but then again, that’s what we all said about Iceland before they rocked the continent.
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Tim Sparv (c)
Minnesota United FC