Hodgson stuck with the old guys for the game in Belgrade and it paid off with an awful, dour match, a nil nil draw and a point for Finland. The highlights reel at the end of the game showed 6 passages of play, 3 of which finished with a referee’s intervention in favour of the defending team.
It was painful viewing, but they got a point and edge incrementally closer to the mountainous summer every Finnish football fan craves. Having abandoned England because we always play such boring football and expect to beat the world, it is a slight improvement that Finland bore the arse off everyone and then say ‘we’re a small country, we can’t do any better. Sorry.’ But only a slight improvement.
I think it’s worth looking into whether Hodgson is modelling his team on Jyrki Heliskoski. Here’s a picture of the stern faced patriarch of the Finnish national team. The light reflects off his head, and you just know that this is a man who understands football. You can almost see right into his head. Then behold Mika ‘Nure’ Nurmela, the best right winger Finland could offer yesterday. Apparently. Personally I think the best right winger from Finland is Alexander Stubb, but the shine on his head comes from his giant teeth. His youthful locks have condemned him to a career in the European Parliament, while Werder Bremen’s Petri Pasanen completes the right hand line up for Finland.
Yes, I know, they’re old (actually Pasanen is only 27 but he has a Heliskoskian hairstyle) and the football is crap but I shouldn’t take the piss. They’ll have to be more attacking on Wednesday when Poland come to Helsinki and I’m sure Roy has a plan.
I was in Vaasa on Saturday, however. I saw the Under 21s play very well against Scotland and deservedly win 3-2 with a last minute winner from Ville Jalasto. They are now top of the group with maximum points after beating Denmark and Scotland and it will be interesting to see how this campaign develops.
The team is solid and strong, and they dealt with the slightly physical Scots very well. Cuthbert and Naismith were the main threats for Scotland, but Jalasto had a storming game down the right for Finland, Sadik and Petrescu did well up front and Finland just had a little bit more left at the end.
I asked Markku Kanerva, the Finland coach, which of the players he thought would be most likely to progress to the full international side. He said Tim Sparv, first and foremost, who is the captain of the side and signed for Southampton four years ago. He’s now at Halmstad and I think he has a good chance of playing on a bigger stage. He limped off after 26 minutes at Hietalahti, though.
The other guys Kanerva mentioned were Petrescu and Jalasto, unsurprisingly. One scored the winner and the other has been an integral part of TamU’s European campaign so far, so no surprises there. They’ll have to wait till after 2008 to play for the senior side.