Euro 2020 preview, Group B – Finland: Pekka Mantyla on Finland’s first finals appearance in 80 years
Our Matchday Squad will cover every nation at the Euros
For Euro 2020, we’ve assembled 24 expert journalists to give you the latest insight and tips on every team throughout the tournament.
Here, Pekka Mantyla gives us his take on Finland…
Give us an overview of your team’s chances at Euro 2020
It took Finland 80 years to reach their very first men’s final tournament. Therefore, after decades of more than a bumpy road, it’s a kind of beautiful irony Euro 2020 was postponed – one more year means nothing in this very long run.
Finland’s supporters have proven their talent already. They have travelled with the team around Europe for years and the demand for tickets to their European Championship games was overwhelming, Especially because of the locations with Copenhagen and St. Petersburg both very easy to reach from Helsinki.
Covid-19 played its tricks once again by limiting the stadiums’ attendance and thousands of fans have received cruel emails from UEFA that their purchased tickets are cancelled, so the Finnish team is not going to receive the support from the stands it deserves but for sure the players will give all they have and a bit more.
Realistically, Finland has no real chances of going ahead from the group stage since Group B seems dramatically tough. Denmark, with home advantage are in marvellous shape, Russia also have home advantage and have always been a difficult opponent for Finland, while Belgium are the number one side in FIFA’s rankings.
What would you say are your team’s major strengths?
Ireland’s head coach Stephen Kenny found the right words last October before facing Finland for the second time in the Nations League.
Kenny said: “They are nearly like a club team in that they are very certain in their roles. Finland have maximised their resources.”
“Like a club team” is probably some of the highest praise a national team can get and in this case it is also true – Finnish players talk about the side in the same way.
They feel like they are going on a class trip when gathering with the national team. The players also know exactly what their principal, I mean head coach, former teacher Markku “Rive” Kanerva expects from them.
And any weaknesses?
Because of Covid-19, the teams are allowed to name bigger squads for the tournament and in a way that might actually be a weakness for Finland as the roster is fragile.
The starting 11, when all fit, can equal many teams in Europe with their teamwork, but when looking at the bench, the quality drops drastically. Let’s pick Joni Kauko as an example, he has been wearing the Finnish jersey frequently with big fighting spirit but as his daily work is in the Danish second tier, we cannot expect too much at this top European level.
One clear weakness and vulnerable part in the team is the wing backs, and I expect the players in those positions to be kept busy by the opposition.
Give us the lowdown on your team’s star player?
The whole country is now waiting news about Teemu Pukki. Will he recover from the ankle injury he suffered in early May?
The Norwich striker has been sensational for three seasons in a row, including in the Championship, Premier League and for the Finnish team. In the Euro 2020 qualifiers, he scored 10 of Finland’s 16 goals, plus so many more in the Nations League. He has proven he can create goals from impossible looking situations.
And tell us about a player from your team who could be a breakthrough star at this tournament?
Finland and Glasgow Rangers already love midfielder Glen Kamara, now it’s about time for the rest of the Europe to get to know his talent as well.
In the midfield, no matter how tight the situation might look like, Kamara always finds the time. He really is the key to making the players beside him shine brighter and without the ball his opponents need to be aware of his precisely timed tackles.
How far do you think your team can go in this tournament?
No matter how much the Finns would love to see their Eagle Owls in the knockout stages, it isn’t going to happen. Pessimistic? Sure, but to say anything else would be irresponsible. One draw would be a good result, one victory (especially against Russia) would be like winning the tournament, qualification from the group would make the whole nation go bananas.
From the group, Belgium is the only side that Finland is used to playing successfully against. Facing the Soviet Union and Russia is very familiar to Finland, the latest win for the Finns happened just a little while ago at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912. History shouldn’t mean anything as the teams step up to the European Championships but the general level and the home crowds for Denmark and Russia will be too tough a mountain for the Finns to climb.
The third match will be against Belgium. Maybe, if the opponent has secured their spot towards the knockout stages already, that would create a chance for a surprise for the White and Blue?
Easy one to finish with, who wins the tournament, and who do you think will be top scorer?
France and Harry Kane.