Finland will be making their debut in a major international tournament for the first time in their history after qualifying for the Euro 2020, and there is an air of excitement among fans of the Nordic nation. One of two debutants this summer alongside North Macedonia, Finland fans are thrilled to see their team play against the top international teams. While expectations for their progress in the tournament are low, the players will be certainly hoping to leave their mark.
Having been drawn in a difficult group with Belgium, Denmark and Russia, most fans and pundits have already predicted Finland to bow out in the group stage. A fight for the knockout stages seems highly unlikely, although the Euros have previously sprung surprises, with Euro 2016 newcomers Wales and Iceland, going deep into the tournament last time out. Finland fans and players will take some hope from that 2016 runs of both nations and hope to make some impact in a tournament full of heavyweights.
Under the leadership of manager Markku Kanerva, this Finnish team had a brilliant UEFA Nations League campaign, winning their group ahead of the likes of Hungary and Greece, and then very successful qualifiers which saw them finish 2nd in their group behind only Italy, winning 6 of their 10 matches. This was a fairytale story for the Finnish people, as they had seen their nation fail time and again on the international stage.
After the 2016 appointment of Kanerva, a former school-teacher who had no experience of managing at the club level, this Finland team saw a change in fortunes. They started winning a few games and that finally culminated in a much-deserved Euro qualification.
Many of the players in the current team are the same who qualified for the U21 European Championship in 2009 under Kanerva, and they are once again looking to make their nation and fans proud this summer. Although faced with a mammoth task of getting past Belgium, Denmark and Russia, they will be raring to go and will hope to give it their all.
THE FULL SQUAD:
Goalkeepers: Jesse Joronen, Lukas Hradecky, Anssi Jaakkola
Defenders: Jukka Raitala, Joona Toivio, Leo Väisänen, Sauli Väisänent, Paulus Arajuuri, Daniel O’Shaughnessy, Jere Uronen, Nikolai Alho, Robert Ivanov, Pyry Soiri (Esbjerg).
Midfielders: Robert Taylor, Robin Lod, Tim Sparv, Rasmus Schuller, Thomas Lam, Fredrik Jensen, Glen Kamara, Joni Kauko, Onni Valakari, Lassi Lappalainen.
Forwards: Teemu Pukki, Joel Pohjanpalo, Marcus Forss
GROUP STAGE FIXTURES:
- Denmark vs Finland (12th June)
- Finland vs Russia (16th June)
- Finland vs Belgium (22nd June)
Teemu Pukki – The talisman of the team, there is no doubt that the Finland team is heavily dependent on the Norwich City striker. He scored 26 goals for Norwich this season, as he led them to promotion to the Premier League from the Championship. He continued that great form for his country, scoring 10 goals in 10 games as he led his nation to their first ever major international tournament. An amazing fact was his shot accuracy in the qualifiers, hitting the target 70% of the time, even better than Cristiano Ronaldo!
However, the Finland team are now hoping and praying that Pukki is fit for the competition after he suffered an ankle ligament injury in early May. The team needs Pukki and their hopes of a miracle progress to the knockout stages somewhat rest on the fitness of the prolific striker. If fit, he will no doubt be the one to watch in the tournament.
Hradecky; Raitala, Toivio, Arajuuri, Väisänen, Uronen; Sparv, Lod, Kamara; Pukki, Pohjanpalo.