UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifier, Group H, Game 2
The Huuhkajat followed up their opening round defeat to Denmark with a 1-0 against Northern Ireland, away at Windsor Park on Sunday night.
Mark Hayton’s Match Report
Sticking with a narrow 4-4-2, Kanerva made three changes for the tie. In came Suhonen, Källman and Rasmus Schüller for Kairinen, Pohjanpalo and the goalscoring Oliver Antman. In a first half low on quality, the home side had the better chances, Nikolai Alho, clearing a dangerous cross off the goal line and Dion Charles blazing over from the corner of the six yard box. With the first significant attack, Robin Lod turned past two defenders on the edge of the box before crossing, Pukki helped the ball on before it dropped to Benjamin Källman who smacked home from close range.
After taking the lead, Finland looked to hold on to the ball more but neither team were able to carve out any further chances. Glen Kamara drew repeated fouls in the middle of the pitch and Suhonen developed an interesting personal battle with Northern Ireland full back, Connor Bradley. Finland went in at the break a goal to the good.
A second half low on quality produced few clear cut chances. Northern Ireland dominated attacking play but lacked composure in key moments. Just after the hour mark, Charles had the ball in the Finland net, but a clear handball in the build up saw the effort ruled out. In response Robert Ivanov had Finland’s best chance with the ball dropping to him eight yards out, but his volley was smashed wildly over. Over seven minutes of stoppage time and half a dozen substitutes failed to deliver any inspiration, and Finland were able to see out the win with relative ease.
Three points from two difficult away days and the return of Rasmus Schüller was incredibly positive for the Huuhkajat, but there are many cracks opening in the Huuhkajat squad that need resolving. Alho and Jensen are concerning at full back, Peltola looks promising but isn’t ready yet. The centre backs don’t yet seem comfortable with each other, Pukki and Pohjanpalo don’t really seem to click as a pair and at some point we’re all going to have to talk about what to do with Robin Lod. Not quite a winger nor a number 10, he is our greatest creative asset and somehow doesn’t fit.
There was much to admire about the result and performance in Belfast, next up Slovenia and San Marino at home in June. Effort and stamina should see us through those games, but sooner rather than later the Huuhkajat will need to do more than paper over those cracks.
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