The evening of Saturday 30th November 2019 sees another step into the unknown for Finnish football. The Finnish Football Association (SPL) will go to Bucharest for their first ever major tournament draw, where they will learn their opponents in the group stage of Euro 2020 (and an idea of the path beyond the groups).
Unlike other final draws in the past, Euro 2020’s set-up means that Finland go into the event with a 50/50 idea of which group they’ll be in. A mixture of permutations involving host cities, seedings and nations in conflict (!) mean that Finland can only play in one of two pools:
Group A (Rome and Baku), where hosts Italy are guaranteed to be top seed, or Group B (Copenhagen and St Petersburg), where we already know the other sides are Belgium, Denmark and Russia.
In an already farcical situation, the schedule of the matches will also be determined – in group A, one side (not Italy) will need to play in Baku for their first match, fly to Rome and then back to Baku for the final match. Not good for the carbon footprint and hardly conducive for preparation for top level football. UEFA’s plan to offset the climate impact includes providing stoves to Rwanda.
From the point of view of the travelling Finland fans, there is one clear favourite. Visa-free travel to St Petersburg is still possible by many routes, while another Nordic country is about as ideal as it gets. The only downside is that the Parken stadium is the smallest in the tournament, with only around 5,000 tickets likely to be available to fans.
As a slight aside, Finnish FA chairman Ari Lahti will be attempting to convince some of their potential opponents to play matches in January after appearing to rule out a Qatar winter training camp on humanitarian grounds. A suggestion of playing Norway in Marbella fell through, and there is a desperate grab for a game as essential preparation for June (and beyond).
Whoever Finland end up facing in June, thousands of Finns (and a few Finland fans of other nationalities) will be racking up miles by land, air and sea to follow the team. Qualification for Euro 2020 has seen a surge of interest at home and abroad, hopefully as many fans can get involved as possible.