An historic night in finnish football. World Cup Qualifying, Group D, Game 7.
Saturday may prove to be an historic day in Finnish football history. Heading to a hostile away ground with barely fifty fans Markku Kanerva officially changed the guard in a must-win game and his youthful Huuhkajat delivered a stunning win to knock the hosts out of contention for Group D qualification.
A raucous first half saw end-to-end action as a back three of Ivanov, O’Shaughnessy and Leo Väisänen knocked the ball around at the back with ease. The hosts carved a number of exciting opportunities but it was Teemu Pukki who had the clearest, first breaking through one-v-one after some high pressing and then from the penalty spot after Miralem Pjanic was adjudged to have hand-balled. Pukki’s poor pen was saved by Ibrahim Sehic, but minutes later, after fantastic footwork by Glen Kamara, Pukki turned provider slotting a ball across the six yard box for Markus Forss to chest home from two yards. The hosts spurned many good chances through Smail Prevljak, and were given a man advantage, after Jukka Raitala received a red card for needlessly scything down Sead Kolasinac.
Surviving until half time, Kanerva pulled another tactical surprise bringing on Urho Nissilä for goalscorer Forss. The KuPS youngster having an inmediate impact by lofting a ball over to the far post. Seemingly a lost cause Teemu Pukki chased it down, and just on the byline pipped Eldar Civic to the ball and nodded it back to Väisänen. The defender laid it off to Robin Lod, who, from the edge of the box, rifled it past Sehic. Badly stunned, the hosts struggled to find the impetus to impact the game. The desparate home dugout replacing star player Pjanic on 67 minutes with Luka Menalo. Within two minutes the sub had poked a shot into the top corner from an inswinging Amer Gojak free-kick.
Finland however dealt a fatal blow just four minutes later as Robin Lod turned provider swinging in a deep free kick to the far post for Daniel O’Shaughnessy to poke home after ghosting past his marker, survivng an agonising VAR check in the minutes thst followed. The closing period of the game saw Fredrik Jensen and Paulus Arajuuri enter the fray, both applying themselves well in the arts of game management. For their part, the hosts, favourites heading into the tie and more so after gaining the man advantage, crossed from deep and shot from distance but rarely troubled Lucas Hradecky.
World Cup Qualifying Table
After the final whistle France secured their place at the top of Group D with an 8-0 demolition of Kazakhstan. The state of play is straight forward, Finland currently occupy a play-off spot, with a two-point-and-one-goal advantage over Ukraine. Ukraine travel to Zenica on Tuesday, while France arrive in Helsinki. Nothing else than a win will do for Ukraine away from home and even then, if Finland draw and keep goals scored equal to Ukraine (so, 1-0: 1-1, 2-1: 2:2) the Huuhkajat will still progress.
It’s a minor miracle, that qualification is still in Finland’s own hands, but the win tonight was more understandable, given that a youthful Finland team knocked the ball around an experienced and much fancied opponent with ease. On paper Finland were the ubderdogs, on the grass they controlled the ball better, created chances and crucially took their chances with a surprising composure. The formation and approach, a technically adept counter-press also seemed to finally make sense of this back three formation, as if this game was the game Rive has been trying to play for a year ot two. It also seems he was right to stick with it, as the Huuhkajat evolved in Zenica. Tuesday will be a tougher test, exactly which France side will show up is TBC, but the way this Finland team played tonight, France and Ukraine will both need to pull out all the stops to prevent the next phase of the Rivelution, a play-off to reach the world cup finals.