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Finland are one of Euro 2020's unknown quantities
Finland are one of Euro 2020's unknown quantities

Finland gained entry to their first major tournament after finishing second in their qualifying group and can enjoy Euro 2020 without any burden of expectation.

Sitting a lowly 54th in the FIFA world rankings, the Finns are not blessed with many household names but will be encouraged by the fact they have nothing to lose and everything to play for.

Background

Finland will be armed with their strongest side since the days of all-time top goalscorer Jari Litmanen.

They recently managed promotion to Group B of the UEFA Nations League — this and qualifying for the Euros is a clear indication of their trajectory as a footballing nation.

Key to their chances will be Teemu Pukki, the striker who helped Norwich bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

But there are a few other names of note in the squad — not least skipper Tim Sparv, who has played in midfield for Groningen and Midtjylland among others after starting out at Southampton.

Uncapped Aapo Halme is on the books at Championship Barnsley, while Brentford’s Marcus Forss and Rangers ace Glen Kamara have also made the final 26.

Norwich star Teemu Pukki is Finland's talisman and biggest goal threat
Norwich star Teemu Pukki is Finland's talisman and biggest goal threat

How they qualified

Finland lost four of their 10 qualifiers but six wins planted them second in Group J, 12 points below Italy and four above Greece in third.

The 3-0 victory against Liechtenstein was the clincher that saw them progress to a first major competition in their 112-year history.

Topias Kauhala, a sports reporter for Finnish sports magazine ELMO, said: "After all these years and what Finland have been through as a national team, people have tears in their eyes.

"It's something you haven't seen in Finnish football before, crying with these emotional moments. It's a once-in-a-lifetime moment."

The line-up

Manager Markku Kanerva will most likely opt for a 4-4-2 formation, making use of Robert Taylor and Robin Lod on the flanks.

Wing-backs Jere Uronen and Jukka Raitala will have freedom to get forward and offer support as the Finns look to flood the midfield.

The game plan will be to conjure as many chances for star man Pukki as possible. This can be done by channeling balls to Joel Pohjanpalo, who operates as a targetman and looks to find space for his striking counterpart.

Bayer Leverkusen keeper Lucas Hradecky, 31, is considered one of the best distributors of the ball in the Bundesliga, averaging 7.8 successful long balls per 90 minutes. 

That could be invaluable in getting the ball up to Pukki and Pohjanpalo, who bagged six from 10 starts on loan at Union Berlin in 2020-21. 

Predicted line-up: Hradecky; Uronen, Arajuuri, Toivio, Raitala; Taylor, Kamara, Sparv, Lod; Pohjanpalo, Pukki.

Star man: Teemu Pukki

Pukki, 31, is Finland’s biggest asset and a lot of what they can achieve this summer rests on his shoulders.

He has scored 30 times in 90 outings for the national side, with 20 goals coming in his last 28 appearances.

Ten of those goals were bagged in qualifying, showing just how instrumental the frontman was in Finland reaching the Euros.

For Norwich, Pukki averaged an impressive 3.6 shots per 90 minutes and was the Championship's third-highest scorer with 26 goals. 

The forward was injured last month during a 4-1 win against Reading but it is thought he will be available to start at the Euros. 

Up and comer: Fredrik Jensen

Fredrik Jensen is a key player for Finland
Fredrik Jensen is a key player for Finland

Augsburg midfielder Fredrik Jensen, 23, has only featured 14 times for the German side this season — coming on for 13 substitute appearances, contributing two goals and one assist in all competitions.

But he has been far more important to his national team in recent years and has scored five goals in his last nine outings.

Two of those goals came during qualifying, scoring twice against Armenia, and a further three in the 2018-19 Nations League — finding the net on two occasions against Ireland and once against Bulgaria.

The boss: Markku Kanerva

Kanerva, 57, initially served as Finland’s Under-21 manager for five years. It was during this period he led them to their first and only European U-21 Championship finals in 2009.

He took over the senior team permanently in December 2016 and has earned an impressive win percentage of 57.58% since being appointed. 

Of course, his most notable achievement has been to lead Finland to their first major tournament — but he also guided them to promotion from Nations League C in 2019.

Speaking about his tactical approach, he said: "I have certain principles what we should do. In defending, we have varied the formation. Sometimes we have two centre-backs, sometimes three. We have to be very flexible."

Finland will be delighted to be at Euro 2020 but Kanerva will need all his tactical nous to take them far in the tournament.

All information correct as of midday, June 2, 2021

Tags

FinlandEuropean Championship

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