ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) – Finland made it to the finals of a major tournament for the first time at Euro 2020 and even managed to win their first against Denmark, but they lacked the firepower to mount a serious challenge to the best teams in Europe.
The Finns finished third in Group B with three points, but it wasn’t enough for them to go through to the knockout stages.
Their stated aim is to make qualifying for major tournaments a regular occurrence and this experience will help a squad that is still finding its feet at the very highest level, although they will need to learn to spread the burden through the squad.
The Denmark game was one the Finnish players will never forget as the match was suspended when Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest in the first half.
When the match resumed Joel Pohjanpalo scored a superb header in the second half, and with the Danes still reeling from the shock of Eriksen’s collapse, it was to prove the only goal of the game, and indeed Finland’s only goal of the tournament.
Finland’s euphoria was overshadowed by concern about Eriksen, as was the fact that their winning goal was their only effort on target in a game Denmark had dominated until the suspension.
Things improved slightly against Russia and Pohjanpalo hit the back of the net with another early header, only to see it ruled out for offside, but again they managed just one shot on target.
Much of that can be explained by Teemu Pukki’s race to recover his fitness following an ankle injury sustained while playing for Norwich City at the tail-end of a successful season in the English Championship.
The striker, who netted 10 of Finland’s 16 goals in qualifying, conceded that it wasn’t until halfway through their game against Russia that he started to feel like himself — at which point coach Markku Kanerva promptly substituted him.
Kanerva’s side stuck to their blueprint of suffocating defence and lightning counter-attacks, stringing five across the back. But the counter-attack failed to fire against Belgium, resulting in only two shots during the game.
On the upside, the Finns have a young squad that has now tasted what it’s like to meet the big nations on the biggest stage. Building on that will be Kanerva’s next big challenge.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor,; Editing by Christian Radnedge)