Showing posts with label World Cup. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World Cup. 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.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Euro 2016 - too little, too late

The list is getting smaller. More people are RSVPing to the invitation. Despite the break-up of Europe in the last quarter of a century, these latecomers are promptly accepting. The list of European countries who've never played at a major tournament is getting smaller. Yet Finland remain on that roster.

San Marino.
Faroe Islands.

With 24 teams qualifying for next summer's tournament, it seemed almost harder to fail than to make it. But a lot of countries have risen to the challenge, boosted by confidence and perhaps the (early) complacency of the bigger nations. Iceland and Wales were improving prior to this competition, while Northern Ireland, Austria and Albania qualified ahead of expectations.

Finland's group, at the time of the draw and with the benefit of hindsight, was the best possible. The top seeds were Greece, who'd made the last 16 at the World Cup in Brazil. Hungary and Romania were tough with good (great?) historical teams. Northern Ireland hadn't qualified for anything in 30 years. Faroe Islands are still a level above the true minnows.

After winning the opening match away to Faroe Islands 1-3, the hard way after conceding a sloppy opener, it was all going perfectly to plan. But it was all downhill from there. One point from the next five matches, a draw at home to a dreadful Greek side, was terminal.

In defeats to Hungary home and away, in Belfast and to visiting Romania, Finland looked pedestrian, ponderous and without the perspective to see what was wrong. Mixu Paatelainen was the manager with the backing of the Finnish FA, but looked utterly clueless and left behind while other sides played to their strengths. He persisted with the Christmas tree formation (4-3-2-1), designed almost to hamstring the players rather than improve them. A good coach should make the team better than the sum of their parts - how can a side with Roman Eremenko, Tim Sparv and Niklas Moisander look so impotent? The blind faith is admirable, but did Teemu Pukki do enough to deserve his regular starting place? 

Paatelainen was sacked after the Hungary defeat in June, where a very public recruitment process led to former New York Red Bulls boss Hans Backe's appointment - but not until January as he had more pressing television commitments (he'll do well in Finland with that). Long time assistant Markku Kanerva stepped into the breach, to his credit he did well with two wins followed by two draws.

Maybe it was due to the handbrake being removed, or the players being allowed more freedom in those four fixtures. The side moved to a 4-4-2, Pohjanpalo scoring three times and there seemed a bit more vibrancy. Despite the loss of Eremenko to injury, Moisander only featuring once and suspensions at various points to Sparv, Hetemaj and Halsti; there was more positivity and it's got to be a good sign at the disappointment of conceding a late equaliser in Bucharest.

The Olympiastadion is now closed for renovations and the 2018 World Cup qualifiers will all be played at the Ratina stadium in Tampere. It's a much tougher group (Iceland, Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey) with only one guaranteed qualifier. Due to the poor performances under Mixu, Finland's FIFA ranking dropped so low that they are the bottom seed in that group. Had the draw been made with October's rankings, Finland could have been as high as third seeds.

Most of the players (if not all) will still be available for selection come September 2016, while the year will give extra development time to prospects like Thomas Lam and Jere Uronen. Lukas Hradecky and Pohjanpalo cemented their places as starters and the U21s have made a decent start to qualifying for their Euro adventure.

Ultimately the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 is a failure. Mixu should have been relieved of his job earlier, if not after before. I don't know a lot about Hans Backe, my main doubt is of the FA's selection process, going for an easy option, possibly the cheapest. Kanerva restored some pride and performances, it's unclear yet if he'll remain on Backe's staff.

Onwards and upwards, OI SUOMI ON!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Finland v Spain - the rematch

Back in March, we saw the Miracle of Gijón - David and Goliath, Finland's biggest game in years - and they held World and European champions Spain to a draw. It's a miracle because let's be honest. Spain dominated, had 46 attempts on goal, 72% possession, and 38 corners. Yet it ended 1-1 as Teemu Pukki scored a breakaway goal late on (79mins), equalising Sergio Ramos' goal just after the half time.

When goalscorers collide

The return match takes place this Friday in Helsinki, in front of a sell-out crowd of 37,500. The stakes are high - a Spain win would almost seal automatic qualification, while Finland have little chance of making the play-offs, any result would contribute towards an improved seeding for the Euro 2016 qualifier pots.

Niki Mäenpää gets vital practice (photo via Jussi Eskola)

Finland come into the game on the back of some decent results, a friendly win over Slovenia and 4 points from Belarus in two qualifier in June. They'll be missing Perparim Hetemaj for the tie, after he collected his second booking of the group in Belarus. The Finns are also missing Joel Pohjanpalo and Toni Kolehmainen through injury, while Mikael Forssell doesn't make the squad due to a lack of playing time with HJK.

Will Mattila need a crash helmet on Friday? (photo via Huuhkajat)

The Spain squad is missing some familiar faces. Chelsea's Juan Mata and Fernando Torres miss out, Xabi Alonso is injured, while Sergio Busquets withdrew. But they can still call on the likes of Iniesta, Villa, Pedro and Xavi. When naming his squad, Vicente del Bosque said "We have some replacements who can contribute a lot to the side. There's no drama. These 23 players will give their all to beat Finland... We can't use whether they are playing or not as an excuse. The system of play can vary, but we're not changing the philosophy. The layout, sure, but not the philosophy."

Del Bosque with the crucial bit of paper

The players in Friday night's drama are:


Niki Mäenpää (VVV Venlo)
Lukas Hradecky (Brøndby)
Henri Sillanpää (VPS)
Markus Halsti (Malmö)
Petri Pasanen (AGF Århus)
Veli Lampi (Arsenal Kyiv)
Joona Toivio (Molde
Jukka Raitala (Heerenveen)
Juhani Ojala (Terek Grozny)
Mikko Sumusalo (HJK)
Niklas Moisander (Ajax)
Kari Arkivuo (Häcken)
Kasper Hämäläinen (Lech Poznan)
Tim Sparv (Greuther Fürth)
Alexander Ring (Kaiserslautern)
Sakari Mattila (HJK)
Roman Eremenko (Rubin Kazan)
Teemu Tainio (HJK)
Rasmus Schüller (HJK)
Teemu Pukki (Celtic)
Riku Riski (Hønefoss)
Erfan Zeneli (HJK)

Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)
Pepe Reina (Napoli)
Victor Valdes (Barcelona)
Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid)
Raul Albiol (Napoli)
Jordi Alba (Barcelona)
Nacho Monreal (Arsenal)
Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad)
Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona)
Nacho Fernandes (Real Madrid)
Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona)
David Silva (Manchester City)
Javi Garcia (Manchester City)
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
Jesus Navas (Manchester City)
Isco (Real Madrid)
Koke (Atletico Madrid)
Mario Suarez (Atletico Madrid)
David Villa (Atletico Madrid)
Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona)
Alvaro Negredo (Manchester City)
Roberto Soldado (Tottenham)

Will we see sad Spaniards again this weekend? A draw was a miracle. What could a win be? If you're not able to watch the game, follow Escape To Suomi on Twitter and Facebook for live updates.

Extended highlights of Spain 1-1 Finland (via Tumpero on YouTube)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Finland v Belarus, World Cup qualifying squads

Finland continue their qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup with a double header against Belarus in June. The first match is on the 7th at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, with the second match four days later in Gomel.

Finland's record so far is a narrow defeat at home to France, a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Georgia, and the 'Miracle of Gijon', a 1-1 draw in Spain.

Villa thwarted again

While the chances of qualifying are extremely slim, all points are crucial if Finland are to improve their seeding before the draw is made for Euro 2016. As of April, Finland would still be highly likely to be in pot 4 for the qualification groups.

Belarus warmed up for the matches with a 0-2 win over Estonia on Monday night.

The Finland squad is:

Goalkeepers: Niki Mäenpää (VVV Venlo), Lukas Hradecky (Esbjerg fB), Henri Sillanpää (VPS)

Defenders: Niklas Moisander (Ajax), Jukka Raitala (Heerenveen), Markus Halsti (Malmö FF) , Petri Pasanen (AGF Århus), Jarkko Hurme (TPS), Mikko Sumusalo (HJK), Niklas Moisander - banned for the first match (Ajax), Paulus Arajuuri (Kalmar FF), Jukka Raitala (SC Heerenveen), Kari Arkivuo (BK Häcken)

Midfielders: Tim Sparv (Greuther Fürth), Alexander Ring (HJK, on loan at Borussia Mönchengladbach), Roman Eremenko (Rubin Kazan), Perparim Hetemaj (Chievo Verona), Kasper Hämäläinen (Lech Poznan), Erfan Zeneli, Teemu Tainio, Sebastian Mannström (all HJK), Mika Ojala (BK Häcken)

Forwards: Teemu Pukki (Schalke 04), Mikael Forssell (HJK), Timo Furuholm (Hallescher FC)

The Belarus squad is:

Goalkeepers: Sergei Veremko (Samara), Alyaksandr Hutar (Dynamo Minsk), Sergei Chernik (Neman Grodno)

Defenders: Oleg Veretilo, Vitay Trubilo  (both Dynamo Minsk), Igor Shitov (Saransk), Alexander Martynovich (FC Krasnodar), Yegor Filipenko, Maxim Bordachev (both BATE Borisov), Dmitry Verkhovtsov (Samara)
Midfielders: Stanislav Dragun (Samara), Sergei Kislyak (Rubin Kazan), Yan Tigorev (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Pavlov, Edgar Olekhnovich, Alexander Hleb, Pavel Nekhaichik (BATE Borisov), Anton Putilo (Volga Nizhny Novgorod), Pavel Sitko (Shakhter Soligorsk), Timofei Kalachev (Rostov)
Forwards: Renan Bressan (Alania Vladikavkaz), Vitaly Rodionov (BATE Borisov), Maxim Skavysh (Baltika Kaliningrad)

Former Gunner Hleb in action on Monday

I'll be attending the tie in Helsinki, hoping to see Finland's first win in the group. I'll be in Kuopio during the away tie, so if anyone can recommend a decent pub to watch it in, let me know...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spain 1-1 Finland: In numbers

I'll admit in the preview to this match, I didn't give Finland much chance. In the build-up to the game on Twitter, I forecasted that Finland would be solid, nick a goal on the break... I also said they'd concede three or four goals. But thankfully I, and most people, were wrong. Finland defended well and did nick a goal, and the goal was an equaliser to make it 1-1.

The Finnish squad celebrating in Gijon

Rather than summarise the game, I'll bombard you with some numbers that seem significant. There are also some gratuitous photos and highlights.

0 - Finland finished the game without earning a corner. Spain had 19!

2 - Two of the Finland starting eleven (Teemu Tainio and Alexander Ring) are based in the Finnish league, while Ring has only just returned from a loan spell at Borussia Monchengladbach.

5 - Teemu Pukki's goal was his fifth international goal, but only his first in a competitive match.

Teemu Pukki's goal (Finnish commentary)

18 - Finland had 18% possession of the ball throughout the 90 minutes. In comparison, Inter Milan had 14% possession in their 2010 European Cup semi-final at Barcelona.

28 - It's been 28 years since Finland scored an international goal in Spain. Mika Lipponen scored in a 3-1 defeat to the Spanish in a friendly in Alicante.

29 - Spain had 29 shots on the Finland goal in ninety minutes, but only four of them were on target.

Things get heated towards the end of the match

100 - The Spanish goalscorer Sergio Ramos earned his 100th cap for this game, aged 26.

168 - Days until the return match in Helsinki. Tickets are already selling quickly...

500 - FIFA world ranking points that Spain will earn for the draw, the same as if they'd beaten the USA in a friendly.

Highlights of Spain 1-1 Finland

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spain v Finland, World Cup qualifier

Next week sees Finland's biggest test under Mixu Paatelainen, and perhaps their biggest game for many years. Facing the World and European champions in their own backyard (well, Gijon) is about as tough as it gets for any international side, let alone Finland.

The hosts won their first two games in qualifying group I, before dropping points at home to France in Madrid (a 94th minute goal by Olivier Giroud). The Finns however have only one point so far, a home defeat to the French and a disappointing 1-1 draw against Georgia, which saw Alexei Eremenko Jr sent off for two yellow cards. Finland's squad will then go on to face Luxembourg the following Tuesday.

2010 winners Spain are up next

Finland are taking a strong squad to Spain, the biggest absentee is the suspended Eremenko. Some young players will be benefitting from the experience, including Fulham's young goalkeeper Jesse Joronen, young HJK pair Rasmus Schüller and Mikko Sumusalo, Bursaspor's Petteri Forsell and Jarkko Hurme of TPS.

Spain's squad is announced to be announced on Friday (15th). They're unbeaten since a 2011 defeat to England in a friendly at Wembley. Spain are likely to be without captain Iker Casillas (hand injury), while Xavi and David Villa have recently been injured (but are likely to be involved). Their last match was a 3-1 friendly win over South American champions Uruguay.

Friendly international in 2007

Previous meetings between the two sides have been rare, the last fixture was a friendly in Helsinki in 2007, which ended 0-0. Prior to that, two non-competitive matches in 1994 were both won by Spain. The last competitive (and first of any) fixtures were in qualification for the 1970 World Cup, where Finland won the Helsinki match 2-0, but lost 6-0 in La Línea. Neither country qualified for that tournament, Belgium winning the pre-tournament group.

Highlights of Spain 6-0 Finland in 1969

Finland's recent international record is patchy. Not including the technically unofficial King's Cup, the Finns have lost to Israel, beaten Cyprus away and drawn with Georgia. Spain will be a huge test, and at the time of writing, Finland are 25/1 against to win the match and even a draw is 10/1. The Spanish are currently ranked number 1 by FIFA, Finland are 85th.

Most Finnish supporters accept that a group with Spain and France is so steep it's vertical, and that qualifying for the expanded Euro 2016 is slightly more realistic. But a chance to play against Spain will be an experience at least, and hopefully something the players and staff can learn from.

For Finns (and Spaniards) in the UK, ESPN are showing the match live on Friday 22nd March at 1945 GMT.

 Could Mixu pull off a surprise?

The full Finland squad to face Spain: 
Lukas Hradecky, Niki Mäenpää, Jesse Joronen; Joona Toivio, Niklas Moisander, Jukka Raitala, Jarkko Hurme, Markus Halsti, Paulus Arajuuri; Tim Sparv, Roman Eremenko, Mikko Sumusalo, Kari Arkivuo, Rasmus Schüller, Alexander Ring, Toni Kolehmainen, Perparim Hetemaj, Teemu Pukki, Petteri Forsell, Kasper Hämäläinen, Teemu Tainio; Mikael Forssell, Njazi Kuqi, Riku Riski.

The Spain squad to face Finland:

Victor Valdés, Pepé Reina, David de Gea; Álvaro Arbeloa, Raúl Albiol, Sergio Ramos, César Azpilicueta, Gerard Piqué, Nacho Monreal, Jordi Alba; Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fábregas, Sergio Busquets, Santi Cazorla, Javi García, Isco; David Villa, David Silva, Pedro, Juan Mata, Álvaro Negredo, Jesús Navas

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.

Friday, September 07, 2012

World Cup qualifying - group I for impossble?

So it begins again. Just two months after the end of a surprisingly good Euro 2012, qualifying begins for the 2014 World Cup, to be held in Brazil. This time there are nine European groups competing for those spots in the Finals, and of the fifty-three teams involved, perhaps half will have a reasonable shout of getting there. Finland is not in that half.

The Finns are in Group I, with World and European champions Spain, recent World and European champions France, and Belarus and Georgia. A five team group has it's pros and cons, but for a team which has just dropped twenty-four places in the FIFA rankings, the lack of playing two extra competitive games could prove dangerous in the long run. Coach Mixu Paatelainen has stated his goal is to produce a team which can potentially qualify for the bloated Euro 2016, but they'll do well to rack up more than a handful of points this time around.

 Paatelainen knows the size of the task

Finland's last match was an entertaining 3-3 draw with Northern Ireland in Belfast, and it wasn't fun for those fans of quality football, save for the third Finnish goal (a lovely free kick from Përparim Hetemaj). Their first qualifier is at home to a France side yet again dealing with the fall-out after a Euro 2012 which promised much, but ended up with the same in-fighting, strops and player bans.

 The Finns celebrate the third goal in Belfast

With no minnow (or is it Finland?) in the group, points against rivals are crucial, and under new manager Didier Deschamps, now may be a good time to take on the French. France lost their first qualifier for Euro 2012 at home to Belarus, while in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup they lost to Austria, and only just beat the Faroe Islands.

There have been several suggestions in recent years in support of a pre-qualifying competition amongst the lower-ranked nations, where the winners get the chance to compete with the larger nations. Clearly this was aimed to reduce the games between, for example, Spain and San Marino, but how else for the lower ranked teams to meet these opponents?

The French visit Helsinki this evening (Spain visit in September 2013), and while the odds on an upset are slim, Finland need to play the big teams in competitive games to realistically improve their FIFA rankings, especially after the Baltic Cup debacle (the summer matches against Latvia and Estonia were deemed not to count towards rankings as the fourth official was not FIFA accredited).

 Try telling Latvia that the Baltic Cup doesn't count...

The formula for working out ranking points is based as follows:

M (match result, W/L/D) x I (importance of match, eg friendly or qualifier) x T (ranking of opposing team, worked out as 200 minus their current position) x C (their confederation, eg UEFA).

A victory over France tonight would therefore be worth 3 x 2.5 x 185 x 1 = 1387.5, compared to the 99 points they earned for the draw with Northern Ireland. Results like this will be vital if they're to get decent seedings for future tournaments. Their 2012 point average is currently 125, yet the soon to disappear 2008 average is 228 so they're likely to drop much further if they get a bad start in this campaign.

The Finnish fans I speak to will be watching the France game with hope rather than expectation, and even a point will be a good start (worth 387.5 ranking points). But the group is a marathon not a sprint, and we'll see how a competitive Paatelainen side fares.