What turned out to be the most exciting news of the evening, filtered through just before kick off at the Olympiastadion, Helsinki. Kazakhstan had grabbed a 96th minute equalizer against Ukraine, leaving Finland eyeing up 2nd place in Group D.
On the pitch in Helsinki things were far less entertaining…
Mark H & Rich discuss Finland 0-0 Wales
Prior to kick-off Markku Kanerva had admitted that if it were not for the FIFA/UEFA obligation his team would not be playing Wales. With that in mind both sides went with a largely experimental set up. Csrljohan “Saku” Eriksson and Santeri Hostikka were handed their debuts, Marcus Forss, Kaan Kairinen, Yasin Aseenhoun, Niko Hämäläinen, and Robert Ivanov all made the starting line up, having made only a handful of appearances prior to the game. Finland also lined up in a 4-4-2, with Glen Kamara, Joona Toivio and Jukka Raitala providing the experience.
Straight from kick off Finland were bizarrely denied an opener. Marcus Forss pressed and nicked the ball off Ethan Ampadu just on the right hand side of the Wales box, before advancing into the box and placing his finish low and into the near corner. Estonian referee Kristo Tohver, in charge of only his 7th international fixture, pulled Forss back for the tackle with replays showing the Brentford striker cleanly taking the ball.
What followed was the kind of football usually reserved for training routines. Wales back 5 sat deep, Finland didn’t look particularly interested in pressing. The visitors did look to exploit their width to get in behind and this paid off on 24 minutes when Hämäläinen was caught ball watching and chopped down Brennan Johnson as he sped into the box. Harry Wilson stepped up to take the penalty, planting the game’s first shot on target. Shooting low to his left, Wilson got little power behind it and Eriksson was left with what seemed like a relatively routine save. For the remainder of the half the game progressed slowly both teams seemingly more concerned with potential injury than making an impact. Fredrik Jensen looked bright for Finland playing between the forward line and midfield, but he was a rate bright spark.
In the second half the ineffective Yasin Assenhoun was replaced by Urho Nissilä, the young KuPS playmaker also making his international debut. While his movement allowed the Huuhkajat to progress further forward the end product was a couple of deflected shots and some wayward passing. Wales picked up some free kicks, without ever really troubling Eriksson. A raft of substitutions from both sides brought some impetus, but no real improvement in quality. On 86 minutes Pyry Soiri had the ball in the back of the net, a lovely chipped through ball from Taylor was flicked on by Joel Pohjanpalo. Soiri collected the ball in the box and slotted under Danny Ward only for the Estonian ref to bring it back. Soiri had timed his run perfectly for the initial pass, but the flick came just as he’d moved beyond the back line.
The referee decided to play no minutes of stoppage time, in spite of awarding the visitors no fewer than 12 second half fouls and 11 substitutions.
After the final whistle all we can say is that at least the visitors didn’t nick it, well done to Saku Eriksson for a debut to be proud of and it was a very pleasant, late summer evening in Helsinki, weather-wise. Jensen and probably Kaan Kairinen can be happy with their performances, Glen Kamara can be happy he didn’t pick up and injury as he was targeted and kicked at every opportunity by the visitors. For the others, there is no blame or shame, this was a match that players, staff and even the ref didn’t really seem to be interested in, and with two competitive games just days away, who can blame them.
Elsewhere in Group D, France drew with Bosnia-Herzegovina and saw Jules Kounde sent off as both sides lost players for upcoming fixtures. Saturday’s game against Kazakhstan is a fantastic opportunity to put Finland firmly into a play-off place. Wednesday evening was a significant night for Finnish football, just not in our home stadium.