Finland ended their international triple-header in disappointment on Wednesday night as a strong Switzerland side capitalized on defensive errors that will leave Markku Kanerva with questions to answer about the depth of the Huuhkajat squad.
Sticking with his favored 3-5-2 Kanerva made nine changes from the side that drew in Kiev on Sunday. Robert Ivanov and Juhani Ojala came in to partner O’Shaughnessy at the back Juha Pirinen and Pyry Soiri were deployed as wing backs. Thomas Lam, Robert Taylor and Onni Valakari took up the central midfield births leaving Marcus Forss and Joel Pohjanpalo up top. The Swiss deployed a similar amount of rotation, also making nine changes and looked to challenge the Huuhkajat in more offensive 3-4-3 formation.
The opening exchanges were pretty timid, the hosts looked happy to keep the ball when in possession, Finland ruffled some feathers with a long throw but there was nothing clear until the 22nd minute. What looked to be a routine ball forward caught Daniel O’Shaughnessy out as he sliced his header allowing Xhedran Shakiri in round the back. The Liverpool man dribbled into the box and cut back to Edmilson Fernandez who, until little pressure on the six yard box, passed it on to Mario Gavranovic who was left with one of the easiest finishes you’ll see in international football. As usual Finland rallied after conceding Onni Valakari and Pyry Soiri combining well down the right, Joe Pohjanpalo often dropping into the middle to link up play. It was Pohjanpalo that found the leveler as he met a lovely back-post corner from Valakari with a downward header. The alert Marcus Forss stretching for the ball proved enough of a distraction for Swiss keeper Jonas Omlin to misjudge the bounce and Finland were level. Eight minutes later Finland were in front, Marcus Forss broke well down the right and lofted a cross to the back post, Jolle again nodded down, this time into the path of Valakari, who was needlessly bundled over by Djibril Sow just inside the box. Jolle stepped up, sent the ‘keeper the wrong way and put the Finns in front. The Swiss looked to press in the closing stages of the first half but the last kick was left to Robert Ivanov, the young centre back nutmegging Shakiri and playing the ball out before the Austrian ref blew for time.
For Finland Niki Mäenpää replaced Jesse Joronen in goal while Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic made a triple-substitution looking to change the game for the second half. Granit Xhaka, Manuel Akanji and Christian Fassnacht, all regular starters, came on and for the first 15 minutes Finland didn’t get a kick. The home side pressed well, recycled the ball and smothered the Huuhkajat at every turn. In the ascendancy the hosts also swapped Ruben Vargas for Dennis Zakaria on 55 minutes and the 22 year old Augsburg winger darted past defenders on the edge of the box before thumping a shot into the bottom corner that left Mäenpää staring on. On 65 minutes, Robin Lod and Glen Kamara came on for Lam and Forss and finally Finland could start to put their foot on the ball and enjoy extended periods of possession. Without creating a clear chance Finland came back into the game and when Teemu Pukki, Nikolai Alho and Rasmus Schüller replaced Pohjanpalo, Soiri and Valakari, it looked as though the visitors might just nick it. Pukki flashed a shot wide and Juhani Ojala went closest as he connected with an O’Shaughnessy long throw inside the Swiss six yard box, but his effort bounced wide. Minutes later however it was Ojala that failed to compete with substitute Haris Seferovic as he nodded home from close range. Replays showed that the Benfica striker was slightly offside when Fassnacht headed it back across, but that doesn’t forgive the fact we lost two headers inside the six yard box and the cushioned header was not exactly unstoppable. There was still time for Pukki to craft himself a half chance though uncharacteristically he took an extra touch when well placed, as did Lod when the rebound dropped in the box, but the as the final whistle blew Finland were left to wallow in defeat conceding a late goal for the second time in three games.
There were many positives to take from the game. Joronen again looked solid, Pohjanpalo is well and truly on the road to recovery at times he looked a cut above everyone else on the pitch. Pyry Soiri worked hard and as a makeshift full back at times and defended surprisingly well. Thomas Lam (originally not in the squad) also took his opportunity well, as did Robert Ivanov, who we got to see is more of a ball-playing defender than originally thought. On the other hand, tonight we saw that without Glen Kamara we really do struggle to hold the ball effectively in midfield, also that although they are offensively very effective, neither Robert Taylor nor Onni Valakari are suited to the defensive side of central midfield. In the last three games we’ve also struggled, more than usual, against a high press. With the previous style, Finland would basically leave the ball in wide areas forcing the opponents to either run through or hit long diagonals when attacking. Under the current system, the likes of Switzerland and Bosnia can sustain possession in our final third, essentially because tactics-wise, we’re spread thin. Another area of concern is players like Soiri, Taylor and even Robin Lod are playing in uncomfortable positions, where it’s fair to say we aren’t getting the best out of them. There are two games left before we head to Euro 2021, perhaps the toughest aspect of tonight’s game is how many open questions this squad has so close to our first ever finals tournament.