On Friday evening Markku Kanerva made history as his side put three goals past a Lichtenstein team who were present only to make up the numbers. A sold-out stadium and a jubilant city helped create one of the finest atmospheres the Finnish national team has ever played in.
On the pitch Kanerva stuck with his trademark 4-4-2 and while the Finnish team had multiple injury concerns stuck also with his tried and tested crew. A back four of Pirinen, Raitala, Toivio and Arajuuri stood in front of Lukas Hradecky’s goal. Tim Sparv and Glen Kamara sat in the middle of the park, with Robin Lod and Pyry Siiri providing width, Jasse Tuominen partnered Teemu Pukki in attack. For their part the visitors were supposed to have set up with a 4-5-1 formation, but in the frantic opening minutes there was little else visible but the 11 men behind the ball.
Finland began on the front foot. Pressing high and forcing their opponents to camp out around their own 18-yard box. Within the opening minutes Finland had the ball in the back of the net but Pyry Soiri’s smart run and finish was ruled out as Jasse Tuominen had been caught offside in the intricate build-up. Sparv, Lod and Toivio all struck shots from distance as the visitors remained penned in. On 21 minutes Finland finally found a breakthrough. Teemu Pukki set off on a marauding run through the center and as he neared the edge of the box got slide tackled, the ball bobbled free to Jasse Tuominen, who had been sniffing around the box for half a chance, he picked up the loose ball slotted home from 8 yards for a well-timed first international goal. The relief around the stadium was audible the singing which had not stopped since the first minute became raucous. Finland won a succession of corners and played neatly around the box but couldn’t fashion another clear-cut chance as the visitors refused to leave their own goal mouth.
The feeling around the stadium was a boisterous confidence that’s most Finnish football fans will feel unfamiliar with. In the second half Kanerva’s men continued in the same vein and looked just as confident as their fans, moving the ball around with ease and recovering possession at every opportunity. Just past the hour mark some nice neat build up play resulted in an odd looping ball flying out to the left flank. Soiri amazingly controlled it pirouetted away from his defender and sped into the box in the blink of an eye, only to be dragged down by a reckless sliding tackle from behind. The French referee hae little choice and pointed to the spot. Pukki stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way to make it 2-0. With the result secured Kanerva replaced Sparv with Joni Kauko, who’s first involvement was to win the ball back and feed it forward to Pukki who rounded the keeper, and slotted the ball just inside the post at the second attempt after his first shot was blocked on the line. 3-0 up and the Telia stadium in euphoric voice, Kanerva replaced Soiri and Pukki with Simon Skrabb and Rasmus Karjalainen. The final minutes had a testimonial feel to them, little pressure on the ball and smiles on the faces of those in the white shirts. As the final whistle blew the stands emptied and thousands of jubilant Huuhkaja fans rushed to celebrate with their team.
In an odd way the manner of victory epitomized the style of this team. If there were any nerves they weren’t visible, the players knew the job at hand the plan to execute and delivered with a kind of patient understated professionalism. Many years ago a home tie against a minnow was not a straightforward affair, difficult memories from Azerbaijan from Andorra from even Lichtenstein attest to that. Those difficult memories can now be put next to the pain, failure and frustration from the last 112 years. From this day forward Finland will be a footballing nation at the top table of our sport. In eight months time Kanerva & Co. will test their mettle against the likes of Harry Kane, Kyllian Mbappe, Manuel Neuer and Cristiano Ronaldo and all the memories from all those years will seem insignificant save for one. The fireworks, freezing cold air, and fans on the pitch from this night, the night we carried our heroes around the pitch, the night the Rivelution was completed, the night we made history.