The European Championship is a hotbed for ‘the underdog,‘. In the last tournament, Wales reached the last four, the smallest nation to ever do so, while Portugal won the whole thing; not many had them pegged to do that. Greece heroically won the Euros in 2004. Denmark entered the competition because another nation pulled out and ended up winning it in 1992. In almost every Euros, there’s a team who burst onto the stage, capture the hearts of the neutral and then go out in a blaze of glory. This year, Finland will be dreaming that they’re that surprise package, the tournaments ‘underdog.’
For Finland, making the competition is an achievement in itself; this will be their debut in a major international tournament. In years gone by, it wouldn’t be harsh to describe Finland as a team that purely made up the numbers. It’s been qualifier after qualifier, without any former Finland team to look to for inspiration of anything better. But now, this Finland squad has made history and inspired the nation with hope that this is the start of a new era of football. They’ve made history to get there and they won’t want to just make up the numbers now they’re here.
What are their chances? They find themselves in group B with Belgium, Russia and Denmark. Belgium looks like the standout team out of the four and they’ll be expecting to top the group. Second place looks harder to pick, Russia and Denmark will back themselves to get that spot. But with the four best third-placed teams qualifying for the ’round of sixteen,’ Finland still have a good chance of making more history. Even just one win stands you in good stead for progression, so they could be just one big performance away from a knockout tie and if the history of the Euros teaches us one thing, it’s that anything can happen at that stage!
The Finland Squad
- Goalkeepers: Jesse Joronen (Brescia), Lukas Hradecky (Leverkusen), Anssi Jaakkola (Bristol Rovers).
- Defenders: Jukka Raitala (Minnesota United), Joona Toivio (Hacken), Leo Väisänen (Elfsborg), Sauli Väisänent (Chievo), Paulus Arajuuri (Pafos), Daniel O’Shaughnessy (HJK), Jere Uronen (Genk), Nikolai Alho (MTK), Robert Ivanov (Warta Poznan), Pyry Soiri (Esbjerg).
- Midfielders: Robert Taylor (Brann), Robin Lod (Minnesota United), Tim Sparv (AEL), Rasmus Schuller (Djurgarden), Thomas Lam (Zwolle), Fredrik Jensen (Augsburg), Glen Kamara (Rangers), Joni Kauko (Esbjerg), Onni Valakari (Pafos), Lassi Lappalainen (Montréal).
- Forwards: Teemu Pukki (Norwich City), Joel Pohjanpalo (Union Berlin), Marcus Forss (Brentford).
Teemu Pukki – If you’re a fan of English football, this man won’t need much of an introduction. A poacher who lives to score goals. Normally a player who sticks to the width of the box and relies on his speed of thought, rather than any physical attributes. He’ll need to feed off scraps this summer as this Finland team focuses more on defensive stability than attacking fluidity, but this is something he’s done with success in the national team in years gone by, notching thirty goals for his country. He’ll be supported by Brentford forward Marcus Fross who hit the net seven times this season.
Tim Sparv – The Finland skipper goes to the tournament approaching the end of his career, without a club. He’ll be saving the best till last where his career is concerned. After a career spanning nearly twenty years, where he’s played in seven countries, Sparv will no doubt be fulfilling a career-long, if not, a lifelong dream to represent his nation in a major tournament. The team will need all his leadership qualities, work rate and defensive intelligence if they’re to stand a chance. The midfielder will be up for the challenge.
Markku Kanerva – The Finland manager has been part of their international set-up since 2004 when he was appointed their U21 manager. He took up residency as an assistant seven years later before taking the top job in 2016. Kanerva played in Finland’s top league but injuries limited his appearances and he doubled up as a school teacher to make ends meet. But his coaching career hasn’t been met with such hurdles, he’s slowly and steadily worked his way up the coaching set-up and he’ll have a chance to take the players he coached at under 21 level to a major tournament this summer.
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