Finland 1-0 Greece
On Thursday night Markku Kanerva’s Huuhkajat nabbed their fourth win from five Euro Qualifying group games against a disjointed and at times disinterested Greek side. The lackluster opposition should not detract however from an on-field performance that was both competent and composed.
Kannerva named Jasse Tuominen up top with Teemu Pukki, Pyry Soiri and Robin Lod down the flanks, Tim Sparv and Glen Kamara holding The center. Lukas Hradecky was protected by a back four of Jere Uronen, Paulus Arajuuri, Joona Toivio and Jukka Raitala. New coach John van’t Schip kept the rough 4-2-3-1 Greece have been playing with recently but made eight changes to the starting line up from their previous match.
The game got off to a lively start. Both sides tried to find space in behind the full-backs first Pyry Soiri made it to the Greek byline before his cross was cut out then minutes later at the other end Giorgios Masouras got in behind Raitala only for Joona Toivio to cut out the cross. As the early energy dissipated both teams fell back into a disjointed rhythm. Finland for their part kept the ball well moving their opposition around and were able to pick out a pass at will. The Greeks on the other hand struggled to put two or more passes together and in the final third we’re often dispossessed by the impressive Glen Kamara.
The first real chance in the game arrived on 20 minutes. Finland had pressed their opponents into the final third simply by moving the ball around the back four. Joona Toivio on halfway picked out a an incisive through ball to Robin Lod, but with time and space 20 yards from goal Finland’s number 8 dragged his shot a yard wide. The industrious Soiri and Jasse Tuominen were a constant thorn in the Greek defensive plan so much so that Arsenal defender Socrates Papasthopolous and Napoli defender Kostas Manolas were often left pumping long balls forward under relentless pressure. Teemu Pukki was denied at the near post by solid defending while Tim Sparv fizzed a shot from 25 yards that ’keeper Vasileios Barkas held easily. Lukas Hradecky remained largely untroubled save for claiming the odd errant cross, but was never really called upon.
The second-half began much as the first with Finland looking to get in round the back. Pyry Soiri made it to the byline once again on 50 minutes and decided to cut back inside. His layoff to Glen Kamara was well-timed, the Rangers man turned on the edge of the box only to be felled by young Greek midfielder Dimitrios Kourmpelis. The Spanish referee took a long look and seemed hesitant but there was no doubt the young lad had fouled Kamara. Premier League player of the month Teemu Pukki stepped up confidently stared down Barkas and nestled the ball in the bottom right corner, sending the keeper sprawling to the bottom left.
The standard response from a Kanerva side followed. Finland kept the ball and moved it around, probing their opponents with fine passing. As they did the Greek’s struggled to keep up and found it difficult to win back possession. This led to a number of nasty challenges in the middle of the park Glen Kamara in particular taking a lot of heat.
With a tussle in the middle of the pitch and legs tiring on the flanks the Huuhkaja seemed content to pick their moments and wait for the Greeks to press so they could work a counter. That press however never came. Finland’s back four were allowed to roll the ball from side to side Glen Kamara could basically walk wherever he wanted with the ball while Tuominen, Soiri and Pukki each had a pair of opposition defenders taking care of them. As the clock ticked down the play became increasingly scrappy, until a succession of free kicks were squandered by the visitors. The hosts kept their opponents at arm’s length until the final whistle when a capacity crowd at the Ratina Stadium screamed into the cold night air.
This one was a funny old game, one for the purists. Kanerva & Co can be proud of their team’s professionalism and poise, they handled everything Greece had to offer, though admittedly that wasn’t much. Italy arrive in Tampere next, another sold out stadium will provide a nice welcome, and they were pushed hard by Armenia on Thursday, whereas Finland barely broke a sweat. Half way through Group J and Finland have a five point advantage over Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Finn’s like to say ”Nenät edessä”, ahead by a nose. A positive result on Sunday night could make it a lot more than that.