World Cup Qualifiers, Group D, Game 2. “What pressure?”
On Sunday night the Huuhkajat nicked a 1-1 draw thanks to a last minute Teemu Pukki penalty, a result that sees Finland close round 2, 2nd in Group D on goals scored.
Kanerva made three changes to the side that started against Bosnia on Wednesday, in midfield Rasmus Schüller came in for Onni Valakari, while at wing back, Albin Granlund came in for Nikolai Alho, Daniel O’Shaugnessy replaced Niko Hämäläinen the HJK captain dropping to centre back, Jukka Raitala moving wide.
It became apparent in the initial exchanges that the much-hyped, high-pressing and energetic Ukraine side many had feared would not be on display and without much pressure on the ball Finland were able to probe and move the ball around relatively easily crafting a couple of half chances in the opening fifteen minutes. At that point though Granlund who had looked industrious at both ends of the pitch was replaced by Nikolai Alho due a concussion sustained defending a powerful corner. That change and growing impatience on the Ukrainian bench saw the home side up the tempo. On 24 minutes, while still arguing for a throw in Alho was caught cold as Eduard Sobol sprinted down the flank and crossed in for Oleksandr Zubkov to smash a free header just wide. Finland managed to control a decent chunk of the ball, often moving the home side back into their own third before retreating themselves with sideways or backwards passing. This possession was rarely threatening though and Ukraine began to fashion chances more regularly first with shots from distance and then with meandering runs down the flank. Man City’s Zinchenko remained the architect but he was kept at bay by Kamara, Kauko and Schüller. When he did manage to find space and get a shot away, Jesse Joronen was equal to it. Just before half time Zubkov had a guilt-edged chance as the ball dropped to him from 12 yards out. The forward snatched at his chance and smashed it into the stands.
The second half continued much as the first, Ukraine stifling the midfield and slowly moving up the pitch, Finland looking to counter over the top. On 54 minutes Rasmus Schüller nicked the ball off Ruslan Malinovskyi on the edge of his own box before sending Pukki away, the Norwich man laid it off to Robin Lod who’s low shot was turned round the post by Heorhii Bushchan. A series of substitutions followed, mainly caused by knocks. Jolle Pohjanpalo replaced Joni Kauko, Jukka Raitala came off for Niko Hämäläinen while Schüller came off with his knee in ice for Robert Taylor. That left Glen Kamara with a lot of heavy lifting in the middle of the pitch, flanked by the offensive minded Lod and Taylor. For their part the home side also changed things up bringing on a pair of Brazilian born forwards and the always threatening Viktor Kovalenko. Within minutes, the subs were combining with winger Oleksandr Karavaev who whipped in a cross right on the edge of the six yard box, substitute Junior Moraes got the wrong side of Joona Toivio and stabbed home from close range.
As they had done against Bosnia, Finland came to life after conceding, Alho tearing down the right flank before being pulled to ground. Lod whipped in the resulting free kick and Paulus Arajuuri was a studs length away from the equalizer. Arajuuri went close minutes later as Lod again the provider, whipped drilled in a corner, the captain timing his run and header perfectly only to smash it onto the foot of the post. A moment of madness in the dying stages gifted Finland a goal and the point they probably deserved. Pohjanpalo hoofed a hopeful ball towards the box, which was picked up by centre back Vitaliy Mykolenko, with Pukki in pursuit he opted to turn back towards his keeper, Pukki nipped in to grab the ball and the young centre back realizing his error collapsed on top of the Norwich striker conceding a penalty and seeing a ref card for his troubles. Pukki’s spot kick was inch perfect, powerful and into the bottom left corner, Bushchan guessed the right way, but could do nothing to stop it. As the game ticked into stoppage both teams resigned themselves to a point.
After the game, the Huuhkajat are left with the opposite feeling than against Bosnia having nicked a point at the death. As with the Bosnia game though, we may want to ask, what took us so long to get intone game. Finland arrived in Ukraine expecting an onslaught of quality and pace, when this didn’t materialize we didn’t then start to test our opponents until we fell behind. Once we had tested them, this Ukraine defense really did seem fragile. All that said, two points from our opening two games, keeps the group finely balanced and puts the pressure on France, Bosnia and Ukraine more than on us. As we head to Switzerland for a friendly Bosnia host France, Ukraine are under pressure to perform against a stubborn Kazakhstan, both will feel they need a win. For Markku Kanerva, a growing injury list and two patchy performances will provide unwelcome headaches, when it clicks this wing-back system looks superb, the problem is that it doesn’t seem to click often enough. For today though we are second in Group D on goals scored with Ukraine and Bosnia in the rear view mirror. We came to Kiev expecting pressure, what little there was had no impact on a cool-headed Teemu Pukki, who’s goal takes him up to second in Finland s all time scorers list, two behind the king. There is still pressure in this group, but for now, it seems, it’s nothing we can’t handle.