European Championships, Group B, Game 1
On Saturday evening, Markku Kanerva’s Finland side will make history as the first team in the nation’s history to walk out at a major tournament. In their way stand former champions Denmark, widely recognized as a “dark horse” in the competition and likely winners of Group B. Little is expected from the Huuhkajat as they make their debut, which is just the way we like it. Kick off is 18:00 local time, 19:00 back home in Finland.
The Squad: Since the replacement of Sauli Väisänen there are no other injury concerns in the group all eyes will be on the fitness, or match readiness of Tim Sparv. Undoubtedly Kanerva will continue with his wing-back formation, with Daniel O’Shaughnessy likely to pip Leo Väisänen to a starting birth alongside Arajuuri and Toivio. The big question will be about right wing back, where Jukka Raitala, Pyry Soiri or Nikolai Alho are in contention. Given a likely Danish onslaught and aggressive press Raitala is the most accomplished defensively though is often uncomfortable on the right. Alho is decent in both directions, Pyry Soiri will likely be saved as an impact sub, though he has the ability to hurt Denmark from wide positions. Up top expect Teemu Pukki will lead the line with Robin Lod probably preferred to Joel Pohjanpalo just dropping off looking to link the play. If Finland can frustrate the Danes and connect quickly on the counter we could see a repeat of the Bosnia win, though this will be a tough ask.
Opponents: Denmark are a tricky side, since the back end of 2018, only Belgium have beaten them. Coach Kasper Hjulmand replaced Aege Hareide after the Danes qualified for Euro 2020, when the 67 year-old retired. Since taking charge has developed a high pressing team capable of controlling play with effective passing. They enter the tournament after gaining a creditable draw against Germany and a 2-0 win over Bosnia, with many pundits giving the former champions an outside shot at winning the tournament again. Christian Eriksen often takes the lion’s share of attention but in truth Denmark are offensively capable from multiple directions. Tottenham Hotspur’s Pierre Hjoberg and Borussia Doetmund’s Thomas Delaney will look to hold in midfield and guard against counter attacks, pressing their teammates up the pitch where any one of Eriksen, Youssuf Poulsen (RB Leipzig), Martin Braithwaite (Barcelona), Kasper Dolberg (Nice) or their front man, likely Parma’s Andreas Cornelius pose a threat. Historically, the Danes don’t tend to start in a rush, so expect a slow build up and increasing pressure. In terms of weaknesses, there are very few in this well-organized side, but the full-back department is one that can get caught out. Home advantage is not something to be overlooked also, with an estimated 2,500 travelling Finns, stifling the atmosphere will be important in order to raise the pressure on a team where expectations are mounting.
Previous: The last time Finland and Denmark met was over a decade ago, when a goal from Alexei Eremenko Jr was not enough to stave off a 2-1 defeat where youngsters Daniel Agger and Niklas Bendtner also netted. Competitively, the last time Finland and Denmark crossed swords, a Vesa-Pekka Vasara brace crowned Finland champions of the Nordic Championships back in February 2000, a title they hold to this day.
Referee: 42 year old premier league Whistler who has sent off 4 in his last 50. Taylor’s has had his moments (see FA Cup final 2020) but in general is a referee that shies away from controversy. If in doubt Taylor will let the play flow and give the benefit of the doubt to the attacking team.
Opposition view: Lasse Voge (@LasseVge). It will be quite a nervous game, a tight game, our strength is really in our defense and the home crowd is a real advantage. Finland will not score against us, we often struggle to finish the deal. I predict it will be 1-0 to Denmark, a goal in the second half, probably from Cornelius in from a corner.
Mark H: 1-1, tight game, heavy pressing from the Danes, we catch one on the break. Keep our powder dry for St.Petersburg.
Rich: My head also going for 1-1. Opening match nerves, Denmark playing at home, Teemu Pukki playing… There will be a 90th minute goal. For someone.
Keke: This is a real heart versus head battle for me. we all know that Denmark have the talent and the home crowd at Parken could be a factor but this is our time now and my heart wins this time. I’m going for a 1-2 for Finland to shock the Danes and send the travelling Finnish fans into delirium. aika meidän tullut on!
Mark W: Although it’s easy to get carried away with the excitement and hype of the past week (much of which has come from the FFS team) now it’s the time that reality bites. We learned from Cameron at Nordic Footy just how good Denmark could be. So I think we need to contain them, hit them on the break and hope for a 1-0 win. My prediction, however, is 1-1.
Broadcast: Live on YLE and ViaPlay, and multiple other reputable outlets. If you’ve missed the hype around Finland being at the tournament let us say, welcome to the internet, thanks for looking us up first.