Match Analysis: Finland 1-1 Northern Ireland

Sports Mole reviews how Northern Ireland's 1-1 draw with Finland played out in Helsinki, as the visitors finished top of their Euro 2016 qualifying group.

Northern Ireland ended their Euro 2016 qualification campaign top of Group F after a 1-1 draw with Finland this evening.

Craig Cathcart scored a deserved opener for the visitors in the first half after Northern Ireland had dominated proceedings early on.

Finland responded well to going behind, controlling the second half and netting an equaliser before the final whistle through Paulus Arajuuri.

Here, Sports Mole reviews how the game played out in Helsinki.

Craig Cathcart of Northern Ireland scores the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifying match between Finland and Northern Ireland at the Olympic Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Helsinki, Finland.© Getty Images

Match statistics

FINLAND
Shots: 14
On target: 5
Possession: 56%
Corners: 3
Fouls: 10

NORTHERN IRELAND
Shots: 8
On target: 3
Possession: 44%
Corners: 4
Fouls: 4

Was the result fair?

In a word, yes. Northern Ireland were in full control of proceedings for 30 minutes, and deserved to take the lead through Craig Cathcart's header. The hosts woke up after going a goal down, and went on to dominate the second half. If it was not for Joel Pohjanpalo's profligacy in front of goal, Finland could have claimed victory in the second half, but the visitors deserved to take something from the game after their impressive start and for their work rate throughout the match.

Finland's performance

The hosts were very poor for much of the first half. Northern Ireland played a successful pressing game - with the front three closing down the Finnish defence, and Steven Davis winning the ball in midfield - and Finland struggled to string together a series of passes for long periods of the match. The side improved after going behind to Cathcart's header, but rarely gave Michael McGovern too many problems in the Northern Ireland goal.

Finland dominated the game in the second half, but still seemed unlikely to find the back of the net. Pohjanpalo had a bad day up front, while Tim Sparv was symbolic of a midfield that struggled to create clear-cut chances for the team. Kasper Hamalainen gave his side some much needed attacking impetus after coming on for the last 10 minutes, and provided the assist for Paulus Arajuuri's equaliser.

Northern Ireland's performance

Michael O'Neill will be pleased with the application that his side displayed in their performance, particularly considering the celebration that followed their 3-1 victory over Greece just three days ago. His team pressed Finland well throughout the match, although they visibly tired in the second half as Finland dominated possession and had more attempts on goal.

Northern Ireland were in complete control of proceedings by the time Cathcart scored the opener. Stuart Dallas and Niall McGinn looked lively in attack, although Kyle Lafferty did not look quite as sharp as in previous international fixtures - something that could owe to a lack of action at Norwich City, which Lafferty himself has highlighted as an issue heading into next summer's tournament.

The midfield struggled to maintain possession in the second half, and Lafferty became an increasingly isolated figure for Northern Ireland. Despite losing control of the match though, the Green and White Army - dressed all in blue - maintained their shape well in defence and rarely allowed Finland any clear-cut opportunities to find the net. With so many Premier League players in the Northern Irish defence - Paddy McNair, Gareth McAuley, Craig Cathcart, Chris Brunt - perhaps that should come as no real surprise.

Sports Mole's man of the match

Steven Davis: The Northern Ireland captain typified his side's battling performance, pressing Finland from first minute to last, and playing some creative football in the first half. Kasper Hamalainen is a close second for Finland, as the attacking midfielder made the difference for his side in the game's final moments.

Biggest gaffe

Joel Pohjanpalo had an evening to forget for Finland. The Fortuna Dusseldorf striker never looked like scoring for the hosts, and his night was typified on 50 minutes when Robin Lod cut back towards the big man from the left, only for his effort from close range to fly over the crossbar.

Referee performance

Sergey Karasev had a quiet night in Helsinki, and did not brandish a single yellow card. The Russian official came under some criticism for failing to show a card to Hamalainen for a clumsy challenge on Davis late in the match, but otherwise the 36-year-old had a good game.

What next?

Finland: The Finns have failed to qualify for next summer's European Championships, and their next scheduled fixture is a Scandinavian derby with Iceland on October 6, 2016 in their first World Cup 2018 qualifier.

Northern Ireland: The Green and White Army will turn their attentions to Euro 2016, with friendly matches yet to be arranged in preparation for the tournament.

Craig Cathcart of Northern Ireland scores the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifying match between Finland and Northern Ireland at the Olympic Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Helsinki, Finland.
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