With the scene set for Finland’s first outing in a major tournament, it seems their Euro 2020 campaign might fall victim to circumstance.
When you think of Finland as a modern sporting nation, names such as Formula 1’s Kimi Räikkönen or javelin-throwing, track and field gold medallist Tero Pitkämäki may well spring to mind.
The nation has enjoyed little success on footballing fronts, though that’s not to say that Finland has been without national heroes of the sport. Take a quick flick through the history books and you’ll find the likes of Liverpool legend Sami Hyypiä beside famed playmaker Jari Litmanen, notable for his time as Barcelona’s midfield maestro.
It was once believed that the pair, in addition to former Bolton ‘keeper Jussi Jääskeläinen, would combine to form a spine fit to propel their national side to success on the grand stage – though this would never come to fruition.
Instead, Finns would watch their country fall at the first hurdle time and time again, repeatedly failing to progress beyond qualifying rounds.
That is, until recently.
Following a historic three-nil victory over Liechtenstein in November of last year, Finland finished second in their six-country group behind Italy. In doing so, the side had immortalised themselves in Finnish folklore by bringing a halt to 89 years of anguish.
Finland have had squads that included Antti Niemi, Sami Hyypiä, Teemu Tainio, Jari Litmanen and Mikael Forssell and were managed by Roy Hodgson.
None ever qualified for a World Cup or Euros.
Teemu Pukki's Finland qualify for Euro 2020 – the nation's first ever major tournament. pic.twitter.com/tysiUrut1l
— bet365 (@bet365) November 15, 2019
Upon the final whistle, stands of euphoric fans emptied onto the pitch of Helsinki’s Sondera Stadium. Their modern day heroes had succeeded where their priors could not.
Let’s take a look at some of those names at the Finnish forefront who looked set to take the Euros by storm.
Teemu Pukki scores a brace as Finland beat Liechtenstein to book their spot at #EURO2020 🇫🇮
Their first ever major tournament 👏 pic.twitter.com/cOyEuT0QdZ
— Goal (@goal) November 15, 2019
The Norwich striker has made a name for himself this season, though he waited until the latter stages of his career to do so. The now 30 year-old attacker secured the August Premier League player of the month award for a haul of five goals in his first four games in the division.
With strikes coming against Liverpool and Arsenal respectively, before a hat-trick vs Newcastle, the newcomer gripped media attention both home and away.
His league campaign has fallen a little by the wayside since then, with the Norwich man netting only six times since those first matches. Despite this, Pukki’s scoring record for Finland remains stellar, proving crucial in his side’s progression to the Euros.
It would be fair to say that, over the course of five years, Hrádecký has confidently placed himself amongst the top goalkeepers of the Bundesliga.
Having spent his first three years in Germany at Eintracht Frankfurt, a move in 2018 saw the Finn establish himself further at Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
The ‘keeper’s distribution and shot-stopping prowess has seen him maintain his position as his club sides’ number 1, as well as encourage Finland to play out from the back more often.
Tough tackling, captain, leader and yes, legend, Tim Sparv has been a solid fixture in the Finland midfield for close to 12 years now after being given his first cap in 2009.
Tall in stature and physically strong, the defensive midfielder contributes little on the goal-scoring side of things. Instead however, Sparv can often be found as a rearguard, shielding his back line.
Though these days the veteran finds himself plying his trade with the Danish Superliga’s FC Midtjylland, he continues to lead his country out onto the pitch every international break – his experience and match awareness clearly instrumental in the national side’s plans.
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) November 15, 2019
The man who gave his nation hope, putting them ahead in the most important game in their history vs Liechtenstein.
At just 24, the striker has already featured for five different sides. Most recently, Tuominen has returned to his native Nordics with a move to Swedish club Häcken following a successful spell in Belarus in which he helped BATE Borisov to the domestic title.
Finland have great hopes for their number seven, with him primed to take the reigns from strike-partner Pukki in the coming years – though, maybe not this one:
Euro 2020 suspended until 2021:
📌 Decision made to allow leagues time to complete their domestic seasons.
📌 All Euros marches will now take place between June 11th and July 11th 2021.
Stay tuned to talkSPORT for more.
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) March 17, 2020
Despite their great efforts to overcome decades of disappointment, it’s looking increasingly likely that Finland are to be spurned.
What a shame it would be, that a country so rich of talent and riding the crest of a qualification high could be quashed by means out of their control.
Let’s hope for a Euro reconfiguration which might still see this dark horse given a chance to run with the best.