On Saturday evening Finland’s qualification campaign hit a major bump in the road as an under strength and out of form Bosnia Herzegovina side ran amuck against a lackluster and predictable Finland side.
Kanerva reverted to a 4-4-2 formation making four changes from the side that lost out narrowly to Italy a month ago. Tim Sparv, Pyry Soiri, Jasse Tuominen and Jukka Raitala came in to replace Rasmus Schüller, Lassi Lappalainen, Sauli Väisänen and Albin Granlund. The hosts made five changes from the side that lost to Armenia, switched to a direct 4-3-3 and kicked off at a frantic pace.
Within a minute the home side had forced their way into Finland’s final third, with Juve’s Miralem Pjanic pulling the strings. Tim Sparv needed to cut out a cross, Paulus Arajuuri attempted to head clear and after a spot of pinball in the Finland box, Glen Kamara accidentally controlled the ball with his hand before making a clearance, that luckily neither the referee nor his assistants saw. That luck would last about 4 more minutes, when unchallenged Paulus Arajuuri hit the deck, later confirming hearing a popping sound in his knee. Perhaps naively, Arajuuri continued to play, visibly less mobile than usual. At the same time the hosts continued to increase the tempo and pressure. Ermin Bicakcic flashed a header just over the bar from one of five corners won by the hosts in the opening minutes, Amer Gojak had the ball in the back of Finland’s net on 14, though it was correctly rule out for offside, Raitala stepping up just in time. Minutes later Edin Visca limped off injured, to be replaced Izet Hajrovic.
Outnumbered in midfield and immobile in defense, Finland continued to weather the storm, Zoran Kvrzic flashing a shot just past the post and Joona Toivio, throwing in a last ditch tackle to deny Armin Hodzic. On 29 minutes though the damn broke, substitute Harjovic slipped past Arajuuri, Raitala playing the youngster onside this time, and from the corner of the six yard box, he smashed a shot that Hradecky had no chance of saving. After going a goal down Arajuuri, then limped off to be replaced by Sauli Väisänen, but before the Chievo centre back could settle, the ball was once again bouncing around the Finland box. Saed Kolasinic’s shot deflected off Jukka Raitala and spun up hitting Pyry Soiri in the chest, from less than a yard away. As against Italy, the referee took no time to think and pointed to the spot. Pjanic stepped up and sent Hradecky the wrong way to double the lead for the home side. As the first half drew to a close there were almost no signs of life in the Finland team. Lukas Hradecky needed to produce a top class save to deny Hajrovic from close range.
For the second half Joel Pohjanpalo replaced Pyry Soiri, with Jasse Tuominen being moved over to the left flank. Though a positive move, the substitution didn’t deal with Finland’s main problem however. Sparv and Kamara were overrun in the middle of the pitch, allowing Pjanic to sit deep and dictate the game, under almost no pressure. Hradecky was once again called into action, making a fingertip save from an outstanding Pjanic free-kick on 54 minutes. Amer Gojak then smashed his shot wide when well placed. Just before the hour. On 58 minutes Sauli Väisänen was caught on the edge of his own box trying to play out through three opponents, Kvrzic nicked the ball, in two passes, Kolasinic was in free on the left hand side of Finland’s box Raitala stumbled over, then bodies started flying in front of the ball as Kolasicinic, Saric, Kvric and Hodzic all took shots that were either saved or deflected, before Pjanic controlled the ball on his chest and volleyed into the top corner. With the wind in their sails and the fans baying for blood the home team pressed on. On 72 minutes Armin Hodzic got his goal, he was played in through a statuesque back line but Hradecky rushed out to make another fine save. A blue shirt was once again first to the loose ball, with Kolasinic looped a cross to the unmarked Hajrovic who nodded back into the middle where Gojak got to the ball first before it bobbled loose and Hodzic bulldozed through his marker to smash home, again from around the edge of the six yard box.
With 20 minutes left and a four goal advantage, the hosts took their foot off the gas and replaced they’re puppet master Pjanic. Within minutes Finland were able to get a foothold in the game, with Pohjanpalo firing at the keeper from the edge of the box. On 79 minutes he had his name on the score sheet after tenacious work from Pukki to find who closed down a defender before feeding Vaisanen, his clipped cross bounced off a couple of home defenders before landing at the feet of Pohjanpalo who smashed his shot in off the bar. The final 10 minutes, Finland threw bodies forward, but poor finishing and a lack of quality in the final third, gifted the hosts a number of chances on the counter attack. As the final whistle blew, Finland trudged off clearly second best.
The result means that should Finland and Bosnia Herzegovina end Group J with the same number of points (a distinct possibility) this defeat will send the Balkan side through on Head to Head record.
Next up is Armenia on Tuesday, who slipped up against lowly Liechtenstein. That game is a must-win for Finland, Bosnia travel to Greece and will also need to win, though based on tonight’s performance that will not phase them. After the final whistle, a visibly angry coach and some players, still went to thank the thousand or so traveling fans who had been rewarded with one of the worst performances in recent memory. On the pitch there were far too many passengers, Tuominen, Lod and Soiri for his part were basically anonymous tonight. With that in mind though, there was also an issue off the pitch, as soon as Arajuuri went down it was obvious he shouldn’t continue. Limping around for a further 20 minutes did little to help our cause, and quite how and why we allowed so much time and space to our opponent’s best player for the entire match is still a mystery. We were punished accordingly, not since the chaos of Hans Backe have a Finland team taken a beating like this, on Tuesday Finland will need to make sure they do not stay on the receiving end.