UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifier, Group H, Game 1
On Thursday evening, Finland kicked off their latest qualifying campaign away to group favourites Denmark, at the Parken Stadium.
Mark Hayton’s Match Report
Reverting to more traditional 4-4-2, with Kaan Kairinen and Oliver Antman being rewarded for their recent performances. In spite of an energetic start, the Huuhkajat struggled to carve clear cut chances and were punished on 23 minutes, Alexander Bah sprinting down the flank feeding Rasmus Højlund pounced from close range against a static defence. The half ended with ‘keeper Lukas Hradecky pulling off a fantastic save as Robin Lod misjudged a cross and chested the ball towards then top corner.
After a slow start to the second half, Finland snapped into gear. Hradecky launched the ball forward, Pohjanpalo split the Danish defence with a flick on, Teemu Pukki mesmerised the backtracking Kjaer with a shimmy before feeding Antman, who slotted past Schmeichel to equalize. The Danes came back with Hradecky pulling off a string of impressive saves from close range – one on one against Højlund and from Christian Norgaard – and at distance from Tottenham’s Pierre Emile Hjobjerg.
Though Finland mustered a good second wind, injuries to Robin Lod and Richard Jensen left the Huuhkajat with youngsters in (or wandering out of) key positions. The deadlock would not last, with a Danish corner finding it’s way to the back post where unmarked substitute Jonas Wind headed back across Højlund again quickest to react from three yards, nodding the ball home. In stoppage time, Højlund completed a hat-trick latching on to Mohamad Daramy’s deflected cross before controlling and smashing into the bottom corner.
Off to a losing start away to the strongest team in the group, who appear to have found a new star in Højlund, is perhaps to be expected. No other team will give Finland such a tough test in this group. That said, there are some clear concerns for Kanerva. Kaan Kairinen very much struggled throughout the game, but with limited options stayed on. With our best forward players on, Pukki, Pohjanpalo, Antman and Lod and bringing on the in-form Forss from the bench, Finland only managed one shot on target, and though we scored it, it should be noted, the move started with a goal kick. Defensively, it seemed the full backs were square pegs in round holes, while Väisänen and Ivanov though both technically capable seem to have an uneasy partnership.
In general, Denmark were far superior and Finland did not seem able to handle that as they once had. On another day, if Hradecky had played an average game, this scoreline could’ve been far more concerning. On to Belfast, next, against a team that struggled to a 2-0 win over San Marino.
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