The Finnish Football Show verdict on: Greece 2-1 Finland
On Monday night Markku Kanerva fielded a largely experimental side and paid the price as a youthful Greek side upped the tempo and plunged the Huuhkajat into Pot 4 ahead of the Euro 2020 group stage draw at the end of November.
Following on from Friday night, Kanerva brought Jesse Joronen in between the sticks and Väisänen brothers Sauli and Leo at centre back, moved Joona Toivio to right back and Jukka Raitala out to the left. Joni Kauko, Rasmus Schüller and Simon Skrabb came into midfield, leaving Teemu Pukki leading the line, on his own. A registration error cost Petteri Forsell his place in the line-up. The Greek’s conversely stuck with exactly the same team that had beaten Armenia 1-0 on Friday night.
The game started off at a snail’s pace, with both teams apparently primed to counter attack, both cagey in trying to make the first move. For the opening 20 minutes neither team could muster even half a chance, with shots from distance or wayward corners the order of the day. On 25 minutes Greece finally did threaten following a wayward corner, Robin Lod was disposed in the box, Sauli Väisänen through himself in front of the shot conceding another corner, which was headed clear to Konstantinos Galanopolous who shot from distance, Väisänen again on hand to throw his head in the way. Minutes later, Jesse Joronen punted a long ball into the Greek half, with recovering centre back Konstantinos Staflydis looking to hook the ball away Teemu Pukki charged through intercepting with his chest before controlling, feinting and then finishing low into the bottom right corner. 1-0 Finland after their first real foray forward and was barely a half chance before the error. For their part, the Greek’s didn’t get into the game until Finland began to attack. With men upfield, the Greeks we’re able to break and on 38 minutes, worked the ball quickly from end to end and switch flanks before full back Michail Bakakis, lofted the ball into the area, where Anastasios Bakasetas planted a free header low into the bottom corner, that Jesse Joronen saved at full stretch. Just before half time, Teemu Pukki set Joni Kauko away in the box, but the Esbjerg midfielder shot straight at the ‘keeper. At half time, Finland looked relatively comfortable, but the hosts had shown a willingness and ability to get in behind the new look back four relatively easily.
The second half was barely into it’s second minute when Dimitris Liminos was sent free down the left flank whipped in a cross that Sauli Väisänen clumsily intercepted. The ball fell to Jukka Raitala who made a poor job of shielding the ball, Bakasetas swooped round and pinged the ball into the six yard box where Petros Mandalos tapped in from 2 yards to make it 1-1. From that slip up, Finland began trading blows with the hosts. First Joni Kauko lofted a ball into the box, that landed at hip-height for Simon Skrabb 6 yards out, the Allsvenskan regular unable to apply the finish. The Greeks countered frequently and quickly, with Limnios in particular a constant threat. Joronen needed to make two top draw saves from the pacey winger and Pavlidis, who was also gifted a free header that he nodded wide. On 70 minutes a rare sweeping move from Finland ended up with Robin Lod, slipping the ball in behind the Greek defense for Teemu Pukki, who struck a lovely shot just wide from the edge of the box. From the goal kick, Greece broke quickly Madalos lofted a cross to the far post that flat-footed the Finnish defence, Kourmpelis knocked the ball back into the six-yard box where substitute Efthymios Koulouris shot from point blank range, Joronen again pulled off a fine save, but Galanopoulos was on hand to stab home again from two yards out, giving the hosts a 2-1 lead. Kanerva looked to change up the side replacing Simon Skrabb and Rasmus Scüller with Fredrik Jensen and Pyry Soiri. Both looked lively and created space and chances, but it was too little too late for Finland, who ended the game unable to match their counterparts’ strong comeback.
At the final whistle Finland’s first successful qualifying campaign came to an end, with some 600 traveling fans undeterred and in fine voice with what their team had delivered. Most had assumed that should Finland qualify it would be a late in the day, dramatic, last minute, goal-difference, kind of affair, but in truth, save for a few hairy minutes in Zenica, qualification has been a likely prospect for about five months. The defeat leaves Finland in Pot 4, likely to face a group of Belgium, Russia and Denmark at the Euros, oddly enough, victory and Pot 3 had the potential to deliver (and still does with some heavy maths) a group that includes Italy, France and Sweden, so at the end of it, the significance of this result and the pots will likely be mute. On the pitch there were many positives, another neat finish for Pukki, who will now have Mikael Forssell’s record in his sites, Jesse Joronen looked good and the Väisänen brothers fared quite well under heavy pressure. There remain question marks outside of Rive’s “nailed on” starting 11 though, that will likely lead to debates and discussions of retired or semi-retired players returning to contention. Whatever the outcome of those, they are a kind of problem that most Finland fans can be happy with, the problems of a qualified team planning for a major tournament.