On Sunday evening Markku Kanerva’s Finland claimed a historic win over the Republic of Ireland thanks to super-sub Fredrik Jensen and what seems to be version 2.0 of the Rivelution.
Kanerva stuck with the same tactics that failed to impress against Wales, but the introduction of Nikolai Alho, Niko Hämäläinen and Robert Taylor brought into two natural wing-backs and a bit of dynamism into the midfield three.
Taylor’s movement and vision helped craft Finland’s first chance, he stepped into the final third before sending Pukki clear with a measured pass. Twelve months ago Pukki would have found the top corner every time, but like much of his form this year he opted for a low Finnish which Randolph stopped with his foot.
In response the home side looked to do as the Welsh had done in the previous game and get in behind Finland’s full backs. The more defensive-minded Alho and Hämäläinen did well, while a deep back-line left many balls floating through to Hradecky or Irish midfielders, like Brady, opting to shoot from distance. Half-time rolled round with no other clear chances for either side.
In the second half the energy began to drain for the encounter. Both teams began to find it difficult to play through a congested midfield and so both resorted to balls from deep, most often bouncing harmlessly through to the ‘keeper. There was a scare on 55 minutes as Glen Kamara was caught in possession and Aaron Connelly broke into the box smashing a shot into the side netting, a few more wayward shots from Ireland and Kanerva decided to make a change.
Fredrik Jensen replaced Joel Pohjanpalo on 62 minutes. His first touch was to control a throw in and feed the ball to Pukki who released Robert Taylor in the channel, he steadied himself and lay the ball across the six yard box where Jensen having not stopped promptly arrived to slot home. All in all, that was 25 seconds into his appearance. The next five minutes was end-to-end chaos as Finland were caught in possession a number of times but managed to recover just enough to allow Hradecky smother.
On 69 minutes Ireland crafted their best chance Matt Doherty slid Callum Robinson in between Niko Hämäläinen and Daniel O’Shaughnessy and, as the Sheff Utd forward reached the corner of the six yard box, Hradecky pounced to block. As the game wore on, however, Finland seemed to find more composure. Excellent interplay between Jensen and Glen Kamara resulted in a Pukki strike that shaved the post on 82 minutes. Three minutes later, Robert Taylor got into the mix and fed to Pukki on the edge of the box who, in turn, lifted a through-ball to the advancing Alho. The HJK man took a touch and lifted his shot towards the back post, drawing a world-class save from Darren Randolph. There were four minutes of added time but the introduction of Rasmus Karjalainen for Pukki gave the Huuhkajat just enough legs to close down the hosts in the final stages.
The first win for Finland in UEFA Nations League B, and a first win in history against the Republic of Ireland arrived with a kind of composure and creativity that has been rarely seen for Finland. The wing-back approach puts some very difficult strains on key positions, but today, Nikolai Alho played possibly the best game of his career, while the young Hämäläinen didn’t seem at all out of place at this level. Leo Väisänen, Daniel O’Shaughnessy and Juhani Ojala look like they’ve been playing together for years and the skill, technique and movement of Fredrik Jensen, but particularly Robert Taylor give the Huuhkajat an oddly unpredictable air. The Rivelution appears to have entered a new phase, and with World Cup qualifying pots to be decided soon, the new phase has arrived just in time.