Showing posts with label European Championships. Show all posts
Showing posts with label European Championships. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What next for Finland?

2018 World Cup qualifying is over for Finland. Well, it's been over for months. Monday night saw the final match in group I, in Turku against an also-eliminated Turkey. It turned out to be an entertaining 2-2, but ultimately counts for little other than FIFA ranking points and cementing Finland's place in division C in the upcoming Nations League.

Like the qualifying campaign for the 2016 European Championships, the best sequence of results was saved for the end, when the pressure was ultimately off. Finishing with two wins and two draws has echoes of that group, but the seeds of failure were sown much earlier.
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The World Cup group was drawn in 2015, when Finland were at their lowest ebb after the sacking of Mixu Paatelainen. Placed in the fifth seeding pot due to a poor FIFA ranking, the Finns were drawn in a tough group with Iceland, Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine, before being joined later by Kosovo. Fifth place was expected, and achieved.

After Markku Kanerva steadied the ship post-Mixu, the Finnish FA (Palloliitto) held an open search for his successor. Applicants included Stuart Pearce and former Gibraltar boss Allen Bula; but the selection panel of the late FA chairman Pertti Alaja, secretary Marco Casagrande and advisor Jari Litmanen went for Swede Hans Backe - a manager who had mostly worked in Scandinavia, with diverse spells at Notts County and New York Red Bulls...
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Backe's reign was an unmitigated disaster. No wins, a complete lack of vision and an even lower FIFA ranking, which ended up outside the top 100. The fixture choices seemed baffling, taking prestige batterings by Germany, Poland and Italy over more productive games. Probably not Backe's fault, but still.
Kanerva again took the reins, this time on a permanent basis. Despite a friendly win over Morocco, other results stayed poor. Injuries played their part, Moisander and Sparv were long-term absentees, while Joel Pohjanpalo and Eero Markkanen struggled to get minutes for their club sides. When he was able to field a virtually full-strength team against Iceland, they won 1-0 and followed that with a win over Kosovo and score draws against Croatia and Turkey.
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It's perhaps harsh to compare Kanerva with England's Gareth Southgate - promoted after a sacking, more experience of coaching or working with youngsters. Barring a catastrophe or a complete change of heart at the top of Palloliitto, Markku will be in charge when the Nations League kicks off in 2018 and probably the Euro 2020 qualifying in 2019. Are there any obvious Finnish contenders to replace him? Simo Valakari is now in Norway, Lehkosuo has won a double with HJK but was lucky to keep his job a year ago.

Individually, Finland have some very good players. There is a decent spine that, when all fit, should provide plenty of tough opposition. The youngsters on the fringes of the side have shown that they can add dynamism and pace. Players like Simon Skrabb, Fredrik Jensen, Pyry Soiri and Sauli Väisänen show promise and could become established internationals in the coming years. Alex Ring has come on leaps and bounds at New York City FC, Paulus Arajuuri looked good in the qualifiers and Lukas Hradecky has a fine record in the Bundesliga.

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Will Finland qualify for a major tournament any time soon? Well the 24 team Euros and the wildcard spots from the Nations League represent the best chance. It'll need a favourable draw and good luck with player fitness and form, but recent results should enable a better seeding.

It's easy to get carried away after such a long time of scraps and defeats. It's a time for reflection and building for 2020.

Oi Suomi on.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Euro 2016 qualifying draw - who could Finland face?

This Sunday sees the eyes of Europe fall on the Mediterranean city of Nice, as the draw is made for the qualifying campaign for the next edition of the European Championships, to be held in France during the summer of 2016.

Finland, who've never qualified for a major international tournament (not including the Olympics), go into the campaign on the back of a decent showing in the race for the 2014 World Cup, finishing third in a tough group behind Spain and France. The Finns were seeded in pot five for that campaign, and have risen to the fourth pot.

So who could Finland draw?


While there are some rules relating to politics and TV deals, the draw for Finland is pretty much open.

As I've covered in a previous post, I talked about how great it would be for Finland to face England - what better time for that to happen? In the spirit of honesty, I'll provide my ideal draw, along with a couple of words why.

England (obvious, plus I think the Finnish fans of the Premier League would enjoy it greatly, and it'd be great to go to be in the Finland away end which isn't too far away).

Ireland (I've got Irish relatives, and it'd be another chance to get to a nearby away game. The last meeting between the two was in 2002, ending 0-3 to Ireland).

Poland (Guaranteed to have some passion, plus with an increasing amount of Finns heading to Poland, there's an extra angle).

Finland!

Iceland (the surprise stars of WC2014 qualifying and a chance to re-acquaint with Nordic cousins).

Gibraltar (UEFA new boys, very much an unknown quantity and ideal for the groundhoppers).

So the draw is on Sunday at 11am UK time (1300 Finland). If you want to watch with a Finnish twist, the Finnish FA will be streaming it live on www.huuhkaja.tv, including punditry by Mika Väyrynen. Make sure you stick with ETS for more details, and hopefully some stories from the long journey to France... Plus I've already got a pass from Mrs ETS to head to France in 2016!

And if Finland draw England, I'll see you in London!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Kuningas Litmanen Part IV - Internationals, injuries and family

The final part of the documentary summary will look at Jari's international career, more of his problems with injury, and a (little) bit more of an insight into his private life.

The first real coverage of Jari in the national team jersey is the final fixture of World Cup 98 qualification at home to Hungary in 1997. (To clarify the timeline, this section came after Jari was sent off for Ajax v Volendam). In group 3, Norway had run away with the group, but the final fixture was betwee the Finns and the former mighty Magyars on October 11th 1997.

Finland had already gone 1-0 up through Antti Sumiala, when Mixu Paatelainen had a shot on goal right at the end of the game, which was deflected over. The referee awarded a goal kick, and Jari's protestations earned him a yellow card. Jari says "I protested the situation as it was so obvious, we'd have played the corner slowly so they wouldn't attack. It's football, a small decision for the ref but it changed the direction of the game".

Getting booked for dissent against Hungary

Hungary go up the other end of the pitch from the goal kick, and earn a free kick on the edge of the box, which goes out for a corner. As a result of the corner, an unlikely chain of events caused the ball to go in the Finland goal.

Jari recalls "It doesn't change that we defended in an amateur way, and when the ball went in I could hear the raindrops on my head. It was one of the biggest disappointments of my international career, we were so close. Even if we'd practised 1000 times, that wouldn't have happened again."

On his return to Ajax, he said the room went quiet, Edwin van der Sar came and hugged him.

Highlights v Hungary

The next match to get covered in detail is the Euro 2000 qualifier against Turkey in Istanbul. In October 1998, the Ali Sami Yen Stadium (then home to Galatasaray) was an intimidating place to visit, and made harder by Turkey's win against Germany four days earlier. Finland had started their campaign with a win against Moldova, and defeat to Northern Ireland. Jonatan Johansson talked about the atmosphere, the massive noise, the Police escort required, and he'd been hit on the head by a coin (you could see the bandage when he celebrated a goal later).

The match itself was brutal, several of the Finnish players were on the receiving end of harsh fouls, including Jari himself (see photo below). He was off the pitch receiving treatment at the same time as Johansson, while Mixu Paatelainen also received a knock. Keeper Antti Niemi was also hurt after a great save...

Johansson says he could sense a change in the atmosphere after he scored the second goal to put Finland 2-0 up, that some of the home fans were cheering them. Finland eventually won, Litmanen scoring the 3rd goal in injury time, and the game ended 3-1. Timo Walden, the national team's PR man, describe Jari's standing ovation, and how Jari got himself a Turkish flag to leave the pitch in.

Back at the team's hotel, Niemi broke a glass door near the swimming pool, but when the security guard came to investigate and saw Jari Litmanen, he seemed happy to meet the team. Johansson didn't remember that bit though because he'd had a bit too much to drink...

Fouled in Istanbul

 Highlights v Turkey

Within the next section of the film, in Jari's spell at Liverpool, there is coverage of an injury sustained for Finland against England, which took place funnily enough at Anfield. As Jari was showing us around the pitch, at the Anfield Road end, there was the place where he fell after a challenge with Rio Ferdinand. "I fell a lot in my career, and this was the unluckiest one".

Sami Hyypiä tells the story "Unfortunately we lost 2-1 after a good game. Jari could have made it 2-2, but it was unbelievable to hear what happened to his arm. I heard the bone was in several parts." Finland physio Jari-Pekka Keurulainen said "It was only when we got to the dressing room that he started passing out from the pain. It was the adrenaline which kept him going." That injury caused Litmanen to miss Liverpool's final wins in the FA, Carling and UEFA cups in 2001.

Tussling with Rio Ferdinand, prior to breaking his wrist in 2001

Throughout the last part of the film, there are a few brief clips of Jari sat in a doctor's office, dressed in a gown, with crosses on his knees indicating where to operate. In May 2011, he's told he has a tear in his right knee. In January 2012, it's the left knee. "It's balanced". At the end of the film, we see Jari getting ready for surgery again, and probably not for the last time.

Prepped for surgery

As his second spell at Ajax was coming to an end, Finland faced the Netherlands in Amsterdam. Antti Niemi was amazed at his following - after the pre-match training session at the ground, 500 Ajax fans surrounded their bus, letting off flares and waving flags, all to say farewell to their hero. "Everyone on the bus realised what he means to the fans, you get emotional even for someone else's moment".

With family

The first time we see Litmanen with his family is at the 2007 Independence Day President's reception, only a fleeting sight. Talking about his children, Jari says "A friend told me it will turn your life upside down. But it does change your life, your values change." He talked about having lived with half a suitcase packed since 1992, ready for the next destination.

Hanging out with Dad (and grandad)

Jari's two children only feature twice, in the photos above, and aren't introduced. His partner again features twice, and doesn't say a word to the camera.

There is footage of the funeral of Jari's agent Heikki Marttinen in November 2010. Jari was a pallbearer at the funeral, while the camera films proceedings from a distance. Jari speaks (away from the funeral), and again he struggles to hold back the tears. He describes Heikki again as a father figure, who took care of his business, and supported him as a friend. "It was thanks to him that I transferred to Ajax, he was priceless help and support for me".

Returning to football, Hungary again had a part to play. After a defeat in Helsinki to Hungary in 2010, then-coach Stuart Baxter joins in. "There was a desire to change the team, that we should take away some of the more experienced players, so I wasn't sure which role Jari should have." Baxter recalls talking to Germany manager Jogi Low after a World Cup qualifier in 2009, where Low said Litmanen was his man of the match, as Germany needed a last minute equaliser to end 1-1.

Baxter was replaced, for one match only, by Olli Huttunen, for the home match against San Marino in Helsinki (the match was in November 2010, not October as the DVD caption states). Jari said "When Baxter left, the general atmosphere was that we needed to make the team younger, a new era". He seemed slightly irritated, ending with "there's no place for me".

 The final international

Finland beat San Marino 8-0, Jari scored the sixth goal from the penalty spot. Antti Niemi says he's sure that Jari will play football for as long as he's alive, he loves the game so much. After the match, Jari is interviewed about the banners, big pictures of your face - "What sort of moment was that?". Litmanen was visibly moved, nearly in tears again, "You can probably see".

The music starts in the background, and David Endt, for one last time speaks, "Not even I know him completely, there's always something mysterious".

We end with a list of honours won by Litmanen throughout his career, over footage of numerous goals we've seen throughout the film. This montage is also available in the extras section. There's not a lot in there we haven't already seen, just some extra footage of clips, statue unveilings and tours.

We'll be giving away a DVD copy of the film in the near future - be sure to follow the site on Twitter or Facebook for more information on how.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Could a Nordic hosted Euros work?

It could be said that UEFA are pioneers. Since the turn of the century, we've seen jointly hosted European Championships in 2000 (Holland/Belgium), 2008 (Austria/Switzerland) and now in Poland and Ukraine. There are strong noises towards a triple-hosted bid in 2020 between the Celtic nations of Wales, Ireland and Scotland. The question is, would there be enough infrastructure, stadia or interest in a competition hosted in any of the Nordic countries?

 All roads lead somewhere

Sweden hosted an eight team tournament in 1992, which was won by Denmark (enough has been said about how they got in at the last minute). But that only needed four grounds, which were in Gothenburg, Malmö, Stockholm and Norrköping. With 24 teams involved, at least nine stadiums will be needed, two with a capacity over 50,000 and the other with minimums of 30,000 and 40,000.

What grounds and nations could host? The likely parties would be a mixture of Sweden, Denmark, and Finland or Norway. Finland may jump at the chance to host, purely for the automatic qualification spot... But stadia?

Sweden

The three larger venues for Euro 92 would certainly fit nicely before any improvements were to be made. Gothenburg's Ullevi stadium has a current capacity of around 43,000; Malmö 27,500 and Stockholm's Råsunda holds just over 35,000. The infrastructure is in place, and a long football legacy is in place. Would be probably the biggest of the group, and likely to host the final.

Denmark

The Parken Stadium in Copenhagen has held UEFA finals as recently as 2000, and boasts a current capacity of nearly 40,000. Brondby stadium holds around 29,000. Would require at least one new or rebuilt ground to make it worthwhile. With recent Champions League participants as well has a former Euro winner, there would be no shortage of people queuing to get in.

Finland

The Olympic stadium in Helsinki would be a good fit for opening game or final, with a current capacity of over 40,000. It was renovated in the 1990s, and then again prior to the athletics World Championship in 2005, with further works to be carried out soon. At least one more new or renovated ground would be needed to host games, possibly in Espoo, Turku or Vantaa.

The region's football and fans could benefit greatly from some increased spending and exposure. New stadia, while perhaps unsuitable for some of the smaller clubs in the domestic leagues, could be aspirational, used for international friendlies, and hopefully not just more white elephants.

The recent world ice hockey championships allowed numerous games played at the same venues, to the point that only Helsinki and Stockholm were required. If anything, just the chances for the European camera operators to pan through to ladies in the crowd will be enough of a draw...

The chap at the back needed all the bodyguards

Saturday, June 09, 2012

More than just a sideshow

Euro 2012 has kicked off in Poland and Ukraine, and yet domestic football goes on. The Finns aren't involved, and no Finnish clubs have had to lose any of their players.

Veikkausliiga returns on Monday with the 'derby' between JJK and KuPS - both managed to qualify for the upcoming Europa League but going through very different seasons. JJK are currently 5th, while last season's losing cup finalists KuPS are struggling, one place off the bottom. Without resorting to cliches, the form book may well go out of the window. But another defeat for the team from Kuopio and the rest of the pack will pull further away. The teams had already drawn the first meeting 2-2, with JJK scoring two late goals to grab a point.

Is it a bird? Is it a plan? (via Futisblogi Puoliaika)

While the eyes of the world are on the European Championship, it's back to the grind for the Finns. With the draw for the first qualifying round of the Europa League just two weeks away, the two teams need to make sure their focus is on the now, and not a potential glamour tie with the likes of APOEL or Anzhi.