Luck runs out in Game 2
On Wednesday afternoon Finland played their second match of Euro2020 losing 1-0 to Russia, in St. Petersburg. The game will not live long in the European Championships archives, but will go down as a big chance missed for the Huuhkajat.
Markku Kanerva made only one change to the side that won in Copenhagen, bringing in Rasmus Schüller for Tim Sparv in the centre of midfield. The home side made three changes to their starting line-up but completely changed their tactics opting for a 3-4-2-1 formation.
The game kicked off with a high pace and though the home side pressed heavily, Finland had the ball in the net on 3 minutes. Jukka Raitala intercepted a pass on the right, took a touch and whipped in a ball that Joel Pohjanpalo nodded into the bottom corner. With celebrations continuing and the team heading back to the kick off spot, a VAR review highlighted a forehead difference that found Jolle offside and the goal ruled out. From their Russia pressed heavily, throwing balls into the box for Dzubya who was a constant threat but couldn’t carve out a clear chance. Though the hosts held a great deal of the ball, Finland also looked composed and threatening on the break. Magomed Ozgoev flashed a shot over the bar when free at the back post, Jolle couldn’t sort his feet out when he picked up Pukki’s knock down, Golovin and Robnin flashed shots over the bar from distance while Igor Diveev needed to pull off a wonder-block to deny Pohjanapalo as he’d been put through by Robin Lod, before Jere Uronen showed some of the same heroics clearing his lines at the back stick, taking a boot to the temple for his troubles. As the first half entered stoppage time Aleksandr Golovin and Aleksey Miranchuk combined well on the edge of Finland’s box, Schüller and Lod failed to close the gap, and Miranchuk nipped into the box, before a quick one-two with Dzubya and a shimmy that created space for a shot that he planted squarely in the top corner from 12 yards. It was a rare moment of quality, in which Schüller and O’Shaughnessy came within millimetres, hesitated, and were punished.
Heading into half time though Finland had many reasons to be positive. Pohjanpalo and Pukki both had good chances, aside from the moment of skill Dzubya’s threat was being largely nullified, Hradecky had not really had a save to make and Lod and Kamara were causing problems in the middle, to such an extent that they were being chopped down at every turn.
The second half proved to be a completely different affair. A referee that had been happy to allow play to roll on with Finland players bundled over became pedantic when red shirts ended up on the ground. While the hosts did threaten a few times, Miranchek drawing a great save from Hradecky and drilling wide when well-placed, they slowed down in the second half. To rival those three clear chances, Finland had made a couple in the first half but in the second really struggled as the hosts sat back, content for Finland to keep the ball. Pukki was played through before Diveev once again caught up to block, the Norwich striker then cut inside from the left only to drill his shot straight at ‘keeper Matvey Safanov, Robin Lod was also released before he cut inside, this time from the right and shooting a little early straight into defender Georgi Dzhinkya. With time running out Kanerva withdrew Rasmus Schüller for Joni Kauko, Jukka Raitala for Pyry Soiri and surprisingly Teemu Pukki for Lassi Lappalainen. The changes gave Finland more of a presence in the final third, but no further ability to trap or move the ball effectively. With Russia resorting to playing for time, and the ref willing to indulge them, Finland’s final meaningful chance fell to Paulus Arajuuri. Daniel O’Shaughnessy did well to head a free-kick back across goal but Paulus could only get under the ball, looping his header over the bar.
At the final whistle, Russia moved ahead of Finland on head to head, in Group B, with Belgium to play Denmark on Wednesday. Our chances in Finland’s last group game largely depend on that result, if Belgium have already qualified, expect rested players and scratch 11, if it’s all to play for, Lukaku & Co. will be on a mission. For this result, there were moments where we looked like we could do some damage to the home side, but when we needed a cutting edge we just didn’t get the luck, or just couldn’t find the finish. We did make chances, we did defend well, but when we needed to step up, it appeared we didn’t have the extra gear and when Kanerva looked to make changes, we seemed to get weaker. It’s fair to say we rode our luck in Copenhagen, well, it ran out in St. Petersburg. To be sure of progression we’ll need to start making our own luck against the team ranked number one in the world.