World Cup Qualifying Group D, Game 4.
On Thursday night Markku Kanerva’s side were outclassed by world champions France in Lyon, in a game where Rive sprung a few tactical surprises but didn’t get that slice of luck needed when playing the big boys.
Continuing with a full strength squad Kanerva made some surprises bringing in Leo Väisänen where we might have expected Joona Toivio at the back, Nikolai Alho on the right, where Jukka Raitala played every game of the Euros and a first national team start for Urho Nissilä where we’d have expected to see Tim Sparv.
The common theme in those tactical choices was pace and whenever France looked to break, the rationale was immediately clear. The French were very capable of moving the ball up the pitch quickly and on two or three occasions in the opening salvos were able to force corners after a quick counter. For Finland’s part, an O’Shaughnessy long throw and some nice interplay down the left flank offered small glimpses at goal, with the home defence not always looking assured, Pukki was able to get in behind the back line, but couldn’t find Pohjanpalo from a tight angle, while Nissilä had a 20 yard shot deflected with Lloris needing to tip it over as it looped towards the net.
In general the French often looked disinterested without the ball. They allowed Schüller time and space, but put two players to stop Glen Kamara whenever he venture forward, while they had no real idea how to deal with Nissilä who competently weaved through he French midfield at times. The star quality of the hosts paid off on 26 minutes though. Antoine Greizman picked up a short pass from Benzema just inside the box turned Leo Väisänen with two touches and curled a shot with the outside of his boot into the far corner passed the diving Hradecky. There was no mistake, or poor play in the Finland ranks, it was simply a world-class goal.
There was a similar style to France’s second, although this time Jere Uronen was limping around following an awkward collision with Leo Dubois, the full back cut the ball inside to the advancing Greizman, the pacey Atletico forward dribbling to the byline before smashing home from an almost impossible angle on 54 minutes.
France continued to create chances, Hradecky needed to be on hand twice to rush out and deny Benzema. Finland moved the ball well, and made the tie look competitive in all but the final third. As the clock ticked towards 90 minutes, a stray Paul Pogba leg clipped Teemu Pukko, bundling him into the outstretched Hugo Lloris. As the norwich striker hit the deck, controversial ref Deniz Aytekin had already made his mind up and refused to check with VAR, while replays in and out of the stadium showed an unintended trip.
The game ended after 7 minutes of stoppage time and though well beaten, Finland had contested thr match. Over the previous week France had drawn with Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the goals conceded in those games being a little unfortunate, a stray bounce into an attacker, a marginal red card, a poor back pass, all cost the French earlier in the week, but tonight Finland simply didn’t catch the break they needed.
There were positives to take from the tie. Urho Nissilä vastly improved on his previous performances and gave the French a real problem, Daniel O’Shaughnessy also looked like a centre back that has been playing for years in the national fold handled the likes of Benzema and Pogba well, annoying the former and rattling through the latter and the introduction of Soiri and Valakari gave Finland extra impetus and composure. There were also areas to work on, Alho didn’t look comfortable either linking up play quickly or defending against Hernandez and once it twice inexplicably popped up in odd parts of the pitch, and the service and link up play in the final third often seemed disjointed. Joel Pohjanpalo did nothing wrong, but was also rarely involved in play, and against the likes of France, that did seem to be a luxury we couldn’t afford.
In total though, there is only so much Finland can expect from an away trip in France and with comparisons drawn to the “miracle in Gijon” it may serve us to remember exactly what that game felt like. We played 10 men behind the ball for 89 and a half minutes. We took shot after shot and then hit a quick break, scoring from our only attempt. Tonight was not that. We passed the ball well, gave France some headaches, created half chances and occasionally moved the world champions into uncomfortable positions. Had thr game been officiated correctly, an 89th minute penalty and 7 minutes of stoppage time would have been a test for the soft-French-underbelly that was exposed by Switzerland at the euros. In a sense the defeat highlights the progress Finland has made we are not at the same level as the french, but we are not so far off that we simply park the bus and wait and that’s something to praise. Elsewhere in Group D, Kazakhstan showed how hard it is to take 3 points off them by drawing 2-2 in Bosnia, that means Finland’s next tie against Ukraine at home will go a long way to settling the play-off spot, based on tonight’s performance it’s clear Rive still has a few surprises up his sleeve.
Alho 》 Raitala
Uronen 》 Soiri
Nissilä 》 Kairinen
Schüller 》 Valakari