Hodgson to Inter

From HS:

The Finnish Football Association has reported on its website that the head coach of the Finnish national team Roy Hodgson will not be extending his contract, which runs out today. This means Hodgson will not be guiding Finland into the World Cup qualifying matches next autumn.

The Finnish FA had hoped to secure Hodgson’s continued services, after he had led the team close to qualification for the Euro 2008 finals.The British-born coach, who took over officially from the beginning of 2006, will now be seeking challenges elsewhere.

The search for a new coach will begin immediately, under the direction of FA President Pekka Hämäläinen.
Hodgson will also take part in the selection process. The Finnish FA are to make a statement with further details on this matter later today, Friday. At the Finnish FA press briefing on Friday afternoon it was announced that Roy Hodgson would be joining the managerial staff of Inter Milan (Internazionale) in an as yet undisclosed role.
Hodgson coached Internazionale on two occasions in the past, from 1995-97 (when he took them to the final of the UEFA Cup: they lost to Schalke of Germany in a penalty shootout) and again briefly in 1999, before he left to take charge of the Swiss national squad.

The latest announcement will presumably put to bed speculation that Hodgson might be in the frame for the Ireland, Scotland, or even England managerial positions that have recently become vacant.
The Finnish FA hope to find a replacement by the end of January.

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Finland draw Azerbaijan again

Let’s hope they don’t mess that one up, because the rest of the draw for World Cup 2010 Qualifying looks difficult:

Germany, Russia, Finland, Wales, Azerbaijan, Liechtenstein

Wales are quite poor but can’t be as bad again as they were this time (and their under-21s had a hell of a result against France recently). It looks to be between Russia and Germany for the top two spots, and Finland will need some big performances to get between them.

According to this, Hodgson wants the Ireland job. Unsurprising really, as Finland need rebuilding and he’ll find it tough to match the performances he got this time without the senior players.

Helsinki Times: The dream ends here

Here’s William Moore’s take on Finland’s failure to qualify, and here is my Helsinki Times piece:
It was always going to be a long shot. Finland needed to win in Porto, while Serbia got less than maximum points in their two remaining matches against Kazakhstan and an already-qualified Poland. So it proved, as Roy Hodgson’s men could only draw 0-0 with the 2004 finalists.

Spirits were high in the build-up to the game. Everyone in the Finland camp believed the pressure was all on Portugal, who needed a draw in front of their home crowd in order to ensure qualification. Felipe Scolari had lost his temper in a previous home game, punching Ivica Dragutinovic in a touchline melee, so it was clear the Portuguese could be rattled.

This view overlooked the pressure Finland themselves were under. For many members of this Finland team, the 2008 qualification campaign was the last shot at glory, the final chance to take their country to its first major tournament. Sami Hyypiä said in the build-up to the game that he would have quit international football after the last campaign, had Hodgson not been appointed manager.

The opening stages of the match showed the nerves this pressure caused. Hardly a Finnish player could keep hold of the ball, as bad decision followed bad decision. Even Jari Litmanen, normally the coolest head in the team, couldn’t seem to find the extra couple of seconds of thinking time he usually makes for himself with his clever movement and excellent technique.

Litmanen had not played a game in five months before last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Azerbaijan, when he came off the bench and set up Sheki Kuqi’s winner. Hodgson had bridled at post-match questions about Litmanen, believing that the rest of the team deserved consideration before he examined the performance of Finland’s talismanic striker. Litmanen had played well, but so had everyone else, reasoned the English coach.

So it was a surprise to see Litmanen start the game at the Dragao Stadium. Finland were under the cosh for much of the match, and he just couldn’t find the spark that might have created something for his side. Indeed, the closest Finland came to breaking the deadlock was when Portuguese defender Bruno Alves nearly scored an own goal in the 85th minute.

So what now for Finland? Roy Hodgson will decide whether or not to stay on, as will many of the senior players. It seems certain that Litmanen and Hyypiä will now retire, but question marks also hang over Joonas Kolkka, Hannu Tihinen and Aki Riihilahti.

The qualifiers for the World Cup in 2010 will see an influx of new faces. Finland’s Under-21 team have had an excellent start to their Euro 2009 qualification campaign, and the likes of Tim Sparv, Ville Jalasto and Tomi Petrescu will be eager to get their chance.

The positives to be taken from this campaign should not be overlooked. This was as close as Finland have come to qualifying for a major tournament, and with a bit more luck they could very easily have done it. The margin for error is tiny at this level of international football, and Finland fell just the wrong side of it.

The excitement generated among fans is one major plus. While the attendance for the Azerbaijan game was poor (just 10,325), the support they offered the team was phenomenal. Some seasoned observers of Finnish football judged it as close as Finland has ever come to a ‘European’ football atmosphere.

That enthusiasm needs to be harnessed if the game is to grow, as Hodgson pointed out in his post match press conference. As the 1,000 or so Finland fans make their way home from south west Europe, many of them are wondering how long it will be before Finnish football has another chance like this.

The flippant answer is of course “two years”, the amount of time until the next tournament, but a player like Litmanen comes round only once in a generation. To do it without him would be an extraordinary achievement, but then again – that is precisely what 14 other countries did this time. Maybe it’s time for Finland to be just like the other teams, rather than “Litmanen plus ten others”.

Hodgson hungry for Finnish drama

So says Uefa.com. Having been to see Teuvo Tulio’s The Cross of Love last night, I’m not nearly as ravenous as Croydon Roy. A little peckish, perhaps, but qualification for the European Championships would be a very unFinnish drama, and if Tulio’s work is anything to go by, all the better for that.

Roy says that “we will try to defend well and score when we have a chance. I know this sounds dull but that’s the best answer I have.” That’s a bit timid really, he’s been feistier than that when challenged about his boring tactics before. There is absolutely no point in debating it, because if there is one match for which game plan Hodgson is perfectly suited, it’s this one.

HBL reckons both Heikkinen and Värynen will start, with Värynen playing off Forsell in an advanced position. Hmmm. I’d rather see Shefki beating the crap out of Alves and Meira for 60 minutes, before Litmanen comes on to torment them, but I guess relying on Jari is out. That’s a good thing, in my book – he will play, but he will fit into the team rather than have the team arranged around him.

And if the HBL graphic is correct (I’ve been at university all day and have read no other papers), then it looks like Hodgson is looking to capitalise on any counter attacking opportunities, no matter when they present themselves. Mikael Forsell is not the type of player you expect to hold onto the ball while the defence has a breather.

I’m off to the pub, anyway. I’m curious as to how many people will be there, given the low crowd on Saturday. Finnish people don’t really believe they will qualify, but if they do I think it will be a decent party. Much like Lordi winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Finns are quite content to ignore something and pretent it doesn’t matter, until there is a Finnish success. At that point they go mental, and those that brought success are transformed into national heroes. Sami Hyypiä and Jari Litmanen, bidding for equal status with Lordi…..

Come on Poland!

I think we can all agree that, after the weekend’s events, the priority is to ensure that Serbia don’t qualify. They play very dull, defensive football at every tournament they go to, whereas Finland have not yet had the opportunity to play dull, defensive football at a major tournament. Portugal will be the most likely to enhance the competition, but their coach punches people. Finland’s coach is an Englishman, and the English are well known for never defacing international football matches with violence.

So that’s the moral high ground sorted. What of the rest? Well, all seven living former Finland coaches contacted by MTV3 today said that they ‘believe’ Finland can do it. That might be worrying, it might not, but it would be uncharitable to wonder how any of them would have any idea what it takes to qualify. Positivity is the key, so lets move onto team news.

Mika Värynen longs to be on the pitch. He might make it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Hodgson starts with Heikkinen, as the more defensive, battle hardened player. That’d be risky in my view, Heikkinen made some mistakes against Poland that would be ruthlessly exploited against Portugal, but this is Hodgson and he knows what he’s going to do. The players are right behind him, and they have had some bad luck in the last three 0-0 draws, so maybe Porto is where they cash it in?

btw: if you watched that clip and, like me, are jealous of the presenter Ari Virtanen, you should bear in mind that he spent all day at the Finnish cup finals recently. That’s at least 8 hours in the dreadful, freezing Finnair stadium, with scant supplies of coffee and heaters that were only turned on after3.5 hours, when the men’s teams got there. Porto is the other side of the coin, and it isn’t that nice right now anyway – pissing down with rain and only about 10 degrees. That’s about 12 degrees warmer than Finland, but still. They’re not playing in Madeira.

Finally, I’d like to pay tribute to some brave Finnish heroes, people who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to see Roy’s boys make it to the Euros. Bill Shankly said that football wasn’t a matter of life and death, but he would be astonished to see that there are Finns – normal, honest, hard working Finns – who are as I type actually spending the night at Stansted Airport. Suomi fans: I salute you.

Finland-Azerbaijan post-match celebrations

Do you trust a Serbian snow plough?

Apparently, they can’t clear snow in Belgrade. The Spanish referee decided that Javier Clemente’s team will play today, if it’s possible, and if it isn’t possible ‘for reasons beyond control’, it will be played next Saturday. If they do get to play next Saturday, they will be at a huge advantage – knowing exactly what they need to do to go through, if it is still possible. And they can only go through if Finland win in Portugal.

It’s a bit rum, this. If Finland can play in the freezing snowscapes of Uusimaa, why can’t the Serbs clear their pitch in time? And what happens if they haven’t made the required efforts to clear the pitch? Indeed, why is that left to someone who shares a nationality with their coach?

There’s an excellent report from William Moore at Helsingin Sanomat, and something from YLE here.

And a rather grainy highlights film from AZTV:

UPDATE: The Serbia match is called off, again. This really, really makes things tough for Finland. I’m curious as to why they couldn’t play the game, surely undersoil heating is standard for UEFA matches? According to the BBC it’s now above freezing in Belgrade, and the game was called off a good four hours before the planned kick-off today. Have they really made every effort to get the game played, when it’s much much better for their chances to play it next Saturday?