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Finland Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

Ahead of this summer's delayed Euro 2020 finals, Sports Mole assesses the chances of first-time participants Finland.

For the first time in their history, Finland will take part in a major tournament this summer as they look to leave their mark at the delayed Euro 2020 finals.

The Eagle-Owls defied the odds to finish second in their qualifying group, but their momentum has since dried up and they face a huge task if they are to advance past the group phase at the European Championship.

Finland's Teemu Pukki celebrates scoring their first goal on March 28, 2021© Reuters

With leading scorer Teemu Pukki recovering from injury in time for the tournament, however, and team spirit as high as ever, Finland will be hoping to become the latest nation to win over the hearts of the continent at this summer's pan-European competition.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Finland's chances of doing exactly that at Euro 2020.


GROUP

As fourth seeds, any group Finland were drawn in was going to be tough. So that proved, with Markku Kanerva's men paired with Belgium, Denmark and Russia, ranked first, 10th and 38th in the world respectively.

Euros Group B

To make Finland's task even tougher, they take on Denmark in Copenhagen and Russia in Saint Petersburg, before rounding off their campaign against the world's top-ranked nation in Belgium.

Four of the best third-placed teams advance, so Kanerva will know that victory over Russia will at least give his team a chance of prolonging their stay in the competition.

FIXTURES

June 12: Denmark vs. Finland (5pm, Parken Stadium, Copenhagen)
June 16: Finland vs. Russia (2pm, Gazprom Arena, Saint Petersburg)
June 21: Finland vs. Belgium (8pm, Gazprom Arena, Saint Petersburg)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Finland were in pot three for the Euro 2020 qualifying draw but, a little blip midway through aside, they more than held their own in a group containing Italy and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as minnows Armenia and Liechtenstein.

After losing 2-0 to heavyweights Italy in their opening fixture, Kanerva's charges won their next four games - including at home to second seeds Bosnia-Herzegovina - without conceding a single goal.

Finland players celebrate qualifying for Euro 2020 in November 2019© Reuters

Quickfire losses to Italy and Bosnia in the reverse fixtures looked to have derailed Finland's qualifying prospects, but they responded with a couple of 3-0 victories against Armenia and Liechtenstein at home.

That win against Liechtenstein, with Pukki scoring twice after Jasse Tuominen's nerve-settling opener, was enough to confirm second spot behind runaway leaders Italy with a game to spare, which ended in defeat to Greece.

Finland's 16 goals scored was a respectable tally, but it was the six clean sheets they kept across those 10 fixtures that particularly stood out. Repeat that this summer and they have every chance of reaching the knockouts.


RECENT FORM

The Eagle-Owls' preparations for their first major tournament did not exactly go to plan as they suffered defeats to Sweden and Estonia without scoring in their two pre-Euros friendlies.

Finland's Thomas Lam in action with Sweden's Emil Krafth on May 29, 2021© Reuters

Having also lost to Switzerland in a friendly three months ago, Finland head into their tournament opener against Denmark on the back of three successive defeats, and without a win in six since November 2020.

That run started with a loss to Wales to see them finish second in their Nations League group, before kicking off their World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign with draws against Ukraine and familiar foes Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In terms of competitive fixtures, Finland are winless in three, though on the flipside they have lost just one of their last seven non-friendly matches, winning four of those.


SQUAD

Finland players celebrate scoring against Bosnia on March 24, 2021© Reuters

Goalkeepers: Lukas Hradecky (Bayer Leverkusen), Jesse Joronen (Brescia), Anssi Jaakkola (Bristol Rovers)

Defenders: Paulus Arajuuri (Pafos), Leo Vaisanen (Elfsborg), Sauli Vaisanen (Chievo), Daniel O'Shaugnessy (HJK Helsinki), Robert Ivanov (Warta Poznan), Jere Uronen (Genk), Nikolai Alho (MTK Budapest), Jukka Raitala (Minnesota United), Joona Toivio (Hacken), Robin Lod (Minnesota United), Pyry Soiri (Esbjerg fB)

Midfielders: Joni Kauko (Esbjerg), Onni Valakari (Pafos), Rasmus Schuller (Djurgarden), Thomas Lam (Zwolle), Tim Sparv (Larissa), Fredrik Jensen (Augsburg), Robert Taylor (Brann), Glen Kamara (Rangers)

Forwards: Lassi Lappalainen (Montreal), Teemu Pukki (Norwich), Joel Pohjanpalo (Bayer Leverkusen), Marcus Forss (Brentford)


STAR PLAYER - TEEMU PUKKI

Finland's Teemu Pukki celebrates scoring their second goal March 24, 2021© Reuters

Finland may have lost their two warm-up fixtures this month, but there was some positive news as Pukki returned for the final half an hour of the defeat to Estonia after recovering from a worrying injury.

The Norwich City striker scored 10 goals in qualifying, a tally bettered by only three other players. With 30 goals in 90 caps, he is three short of Jari Litmanen's all-time record.

No wonder, then, that Finnish hearts were in mouths when Pukki sustained an ankle ligament injury for his club side a month ago. After coming through unscathed against Estonia, it is likely that he will now be fit enough to start against Denmark.

There is far more to this Finland side than just Pukki, of course, with Tim Sparv and Glen Kamara also familiar faces, but on the back of another impressive goalscoring campaign for Norwich - 26 goals in 41 Championship appearances - all eyes will be on the prolific striker this summer.


MANAGER - MARKKU KANERVA

Finland coach Markku Kanerva on May 29, 2021© Reuters

Kanerva is Finnish to the core and has worked with the national side in some capacity or other for the past 17 years. Following spells as Under-21s boss and assistant and caretaker boss of the first team, he was named as the permanent senior team manager in December 2016.

A former school teacher, little was expected of Kanerva, but he not only steadied the ship on the back of Hans Backe's terrible tenure, he instantly transformed Finland's fortunes.

The 2018-19 Nations League provided the Eagle-Owls with a platform to build some steady momentum that they took into their qualifying campaign, and now a first major finals awaits.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Kanerva is working largely with the same group he coached at Under-21s level a decade ago, proving that patience really does pay off.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: N/A

Finland had never previously qualified for a World Cup or European Championship finals. Thirty-one times they had tried, 31 times they fell short - until now.

They went close to doing so in qualifying for Euro 2008, winning six, drawing six and losing just two of their 14 matches, yet that was not enough to finish above either Portugal or Poland.


PREDICTION

Reaching a first major finals is an almighty achievement in its own right for Finland, a nation of just 5.5 million people.

However, they are not just making up the numbers this summer and, as witnessed countless times over the years, smaller nations can easily upset the odds at the Euros.

That said, Finland have been dealt a difficult hand as they take on two of the tournament co-hosts and also have the world's number one side Belgium in their group.

We can certainly see Finland picking up points in their three group matches, but finishing above any of the other aforementioned teams will likely be too big a challenge.

VERDICT: Fourth in Group B

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