Group B, Game 3.
On Monday night Finland’s Euro 2020 campaign came to an end at the hands of a classy Belgium side in a sweltering St. Petersburg.
For 73 minutes Finland provided a sturdy defence, on the rare occasions that our back five were breached Lukas Hradecky was on hand to offer world beating saves, first on the stretch from a lovely Jeremy Doku curler then low down at close range from Serie A’s top scorer Romelu Lukaku.
In addition to two world class saves Belgium were well-place a number of times but rarely found their composure from distance. Romelu Lukaku did have the ball in the back of the net just after the hour mark, but a long VAR decision ruled his big toe offside. At that point all was roughly going to plan, Finland’s forays into the Belgian half had generated interest, but we failed to craft a single clear chance.
In the 74th minute Kevin de Bruyne whipped over an in-swinging corner from the left hand side, Thomas Vermaelen ghosted past Jukka Raitala, rose and planted a firm header on to the post. The ball rebounded out and as Hradecky reacted he inadvertently knocked the ball over his own goal line. In spite of his attempts to claw the ball out, it had clearly crossed the line and Finland we’re left with a daunting task.
Finland pushed forwards but 5 minutes later, Raitala and Schüller lost posession on the edge of the Belgium box, and the red devils countered through de Bruyne. As Finland raced to get back into shape the Man City maestro slid the ball to Lukaku in the box, who rolled Daniel O’Shaughnessy before taking a snap shot that took a nick of the HJK center-back’s studs before spinning into the bottom corner.
The remaining 10 minutes was “cat and mouse” Finland pushed forwards, but Belgium were always able to control and move the ball around to defuse the situation. At the final whistle Finland looked understandably exhausted, having kept the world’s best team at bay for 75 minutes.
From here, 3rd in the group with 3 points and a goal difference of -2, the Huuhkajat are not yet technically out, though they would need a series of unlikely results to go through (we will all be Slovakia fans on Wednesday night). The general feeling repeated by players, Kanerva and even by Roberto Martinez in post match interviews was, we can be proud of how we have applied ourselves at the tournament, Finnish football belongs at this level. We can also take heart from other groups, Turkey have had the tournament we all feared, taking a beating in each of their three games, while North Macedonia have also stood out as an example of naive newcomers, we stand above those and at the close of Group B, above Russia, who in effect had two home games. We will wait for the final standings to see if there is one more run out for Finland at Euro 2020, but as tournament debuts go this one has given us all we had hoped for, a chance to show the world we can compete at this level, and a chance to be proud of our boys on the pitch. Job done.