Suomi / Finland
- Capital: Helsinki / Helsingfors
- Official Languages: Finnish, Swedish
- Recognised National Languages: Viittomakieli, Sámi, Teckenspråk, Karelian, Romani
- Nicknames: Huuhkajat (The Eagle-owls)
- Association: Suomen Palloliitto (SPL) / Finlands Bollförbund
- FIFA Code: FIN
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Qualified (2020)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Semi Finals (2005)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 33rd (March 2007)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 14th (September 2005)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 110th (July-August 2017)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 32nd (March 2019)
- Most Capped Player: Jari Litmanen – 137 caps
- Top Scorer: Linda Sällström – 48 goals [as of March 2021]
The Republic of Finland (Suomen tasavalta / Republiken Finland) is situated in UEFA’s far northeastern corner, in the Nordic region of northern Europe, bordered by Norway to its north, Sweden to its northwest, and the Russian Federation to its east, whilst having a coast on the Baltic Sea along the west of the country. The Finnish FA was founded in 1907 and joined FIFA in 1908, whilst it was still an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian Empire, and played its first international match in 1911 in a 2-5 losing effort to neighbours Sweden.
For the majority of its international history, Finland was regarded as one of the weaker teams within the European international scene, and it wouldn’t be until the late 1970s and 1980s when results improved for the Huuhkajat. They missed out on qualification for Euro 1980 by a single point (albeit their goal difference was the worst in the group), and failed to qualify for the 1986 World Cup by two points. During the 1990s and 2000s, the Finnish side looked a lot stronger, and inspired by the mercurial Jari Litmanen and the solid leadership of Sami Hyypiä [two of our all-time favourite players] they were a tough side to defeat. Alas for all of the quality and experience within the Finnish team, they were still unable to qualify for their first major tournament despite coming agonisingly close on occasions.
That all changed during the Euro 2020/21 qualifying campaign. In a tough group with Italy, Greece, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Armenia and Liechtenstein, they managed to finish in the crucial second position (behind Italy), and four points clear of Greece in third place, to finally confirm qualification for their first-ever tournament. Striker Teemu Pukki scored a fantastic ten goals to help the Finns to qualification. In the upcoming European Championships, they will be the relatively straightforward looking Group B along with Denmark, Belgium and Russia, and will surely be looking to potentially progress to the knockout stage of the tournament and be one of its surprise packages.
Talking about a country which will be making its tournament debut in the upcoming European Championships this summer, we interviewed the excellent Escape To Suomi. It is a superb English-language account which has reported about Finnish football since 2012, as well as being involved in the Finnish Football Show podcast and website. To find their social media accounts, and the FFS website and podcast, follow the links below:
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
The best ever player is Jari Litmanen, albeit a couple of close contenders (Sami Hyypiä, Aulis Rytkönen). Litmanen reached previously unknown levels of achievement and quality with Ajax in the mid-1990s, the first Finnish winner of the European Cup, top scoring in both European & Dutch seasons and the only footballer to play internationals in four different decades. With coaches, many have brought different talents and achievements, but only Markku Kanerva has taken Finland to a major tournament… He took over the side at their lowest ebb (winless in 2015), went back to basics with players he’d worked with since the junior sides and forged an amazing team spirit with a core of players at their peak. Was always seen as a steady pair of hands but that’s exactly what Finland needed and it has worked.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Of the current squad, Lukáš Hrádecký is a fan favourite, fond of a beer, leads the chanting with a megaphone after a game and very active on social media. In these days of fan culture, Lukáš, and former midfielder Perpa Hetemaj have been very involved. Mixu Paatelainen was always revered [scoring 18 goals in 70 appearances for Finland], although his mediocre spell as coach between 2011 and 2015 may have dulled that somewhat.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Finland currently?
Lukáš Hrádecký (goalkeeper) is the outstanding individual and has been for a number of years. Regularly turning in world class performances in the Bundesliga for initially Eintracht Frankfurt and now Bayer Leverkusen, and has regularly saved the day in internationals where clean sheets are vital in the many narrow wins. Good with his feet, an outstanding shot stopper.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
There is a general feeling of confidence in Finland, more than ever before – purely off the back of qualifying for Euro 2020. Several campaigns of so near, so far dented ambitions and it did seem like it was never going to happen. The delay to the Euros hasn’t dented excitement, and while there is a feeling that this team are pretty much at their peak (or beyond for some), everyone is so keen to see both this tournament and what comes next.
Q. Are there any Finnish players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
Two young players have been promising throughout the age-group sides and tore into their international debuts last year – both Onni Valakari (21 year old attacking midfielder at Pafos in Cyprus) and Marcus Forss (21 year old forward at Brentford) scored on their first starts away to France in a 2-0 win in November. Valakari is clearly too good for Cyprus while Forss has an amazing goals to game ratio in every side he’s played for and really needs regular first team minutes. Potential to be an outstanding centre forward.
Q. Looking at Finland’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
The win against France last year was huge, but it was only a friendly. The 1-1 draw away to (then World Champions) Spain in 2013 was called the ‘Miracle of Gijon‘, always a back to the wall performance in a tough qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup. But the 3-0 win over Liechtenstein is the one that will also be remembered – the result that confirmed qualification for Euro 2020.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
In 1997, Finland needed a home win against Hungary to secure a play-off spot for France ’98. Things were going well when they went 1-0 up after an hour, but a comical own goal in injury time, the ball rebounding in off the goalkeeper and Hungary sneaked into second spot and caused a generation of pain.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Finnish national team?
The best thing recently have definitely been the away games. With the home (Olympiastadion) shut for renovation for an extended period, games have been played elsewhere in Finland but have brought fun trips to Estonia, Iceland, Bosnia, Italy and Belfast, while we were robbed of Cardiff and Wales by COVID.
The worst was Mixu’s reign was a painfully tedious time, a series of inevitable defeats with little hope and no excitement, all rigidly tied to a Christmas Tree formation with no presents.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
No, there are no obvious songs that the Finnish fans really sing other than the national anthem.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
My favourite kit was the Adidas Equipment home from the early 90s, a template seemingly shared by half of Europe, but the blue stripes on the shoulder of the white shirt seemed to fit Finland perfectly. It seemed Finland and Adidas were a perfect match, and until recently Nike had served up an array of catalogue efforts, but at least the current range are bespoke.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Finnish national team?
Beyond 2021, hopefully a strong showing in 2022 World Cup qualification will keep the spirits high, along with consolidating a good level in the UEFA Nations League. Beyond that, it would be nice to see the next group of youngsters progress with club and country – the supposed golden generation had players representing Ajax, Liverpool, Barcelona, PSV, Tottenham and Chelsea and achieved zero for the Huuhkajat.
A massive kiitos paljon to Escape To Suomi for answering our questions on the Huuhkajat. Remember you can find their excellent social media account in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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