Pekka Mantyla’s Finland v Belgium preview: history favours Finland in St. Petersburg clash
Our Matchday Squad journalist will be covering Finland throughout Euro 2020
It feels so very familiar in Finland again. Finnish supporters are used to calculating: who needs to win, who needs to tie, could we still qualify? However, this time they’re making their calculations in the country’s first appearance at the finals of a major tournament.
A loss against Russia, after a bitter VAR judgement, made things very complicated, even if the basics are clear: against Belgium a victory, and also most probably a tie, takes Finland to the knockout stage. The other option is to keep fingers crossed and hope to make it by being one of the best third-placed teams.
It’s easy (and nice) to admit, that I was partly too pessimistic in my tournament preview. Finland have been able to get three points in two matches, which means we can hold our heads up high, no matter how it goes against Belgium. But naturally, hunger is now huge in the whole country.
Finland’s defence, Paulus Arajuuri, Joona Toivio, Daniel O’Shaughnessy – the trio playing in Cyprus, Sweden and Finland respectively – kept their form against Artem Dzyuba, but it must be said, that Russia earned their win. Unfortunately, I was right in the tournament preview at least in one thing: when it comes to substitutes, Finland’s quality drops significantly. We couldn’t really threaten Russia when trying to hunt the equaliser.
History is on Finland’s side against Belgium, though: the last time Belgium beat Finland was in 1968. After 1999, Finland have won three and drawn four matches against Belgium. The most famous victory was in 2007, as a huge Eagle Owl landed in the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki and interrupted the match for seven minutes. Those were the minutes in which the Finnish team earned their current nickname as the Eagle Owls.
Finland’s line-up should be ok to continue as per the two opening matches. Rasmus Schuller took the opening position from Tim Sparv against Russia, but I think Sparv returns to the pitch on Monday, since both of them now have picked up a yellow card. The tactics will remain same for sure: strong defence, waiting for chances in counter-attacks.
But will the defence last against Lukaku or especially De Bruyne? No one knows, but the dream remains.