Stuart Baxter’s disappointment

Okay, editing the previous post is not really going to work so well, so I will endeavour to produce one of those journalist-writing-about-journalists pieces that do so much to increase the sum of human knowledge. As mentioned before, William Moore’s report is the best place to start. I did something for soccernet, but it is rather Hyypiä centric as that’s what they wanted. You can see all the goals and a bit more here.

Here’s what I got from Baxter’s press conference, although I think it is probably on Huuhkaja TV at the palloliitto site:

Question: are you happy with the result?

“We’ll do everything we can to win, and if we get a draw then maybe I’ll be happy after that. At the moment because of the way the game went I’m finding it very difficult to be happy with it.”

On Miroslav Klose:

“He’s a very difficult striker (Klose). I’ve got a lot of respect for him……a lot of people want strikers to be like Lionel Messi, but sometimes Klose is much more difficult to play against.”

In response to an Azeri journalist who questioned Baxter’s description of Azerbaijan as a ‘small’ match sandwiched between two big ones, against Russia and Germany:

“Don’t take my English in a way it is not meant. A very famous English general once said that the most important small battle is after the big war, and that’s what I meant: you have to be ready for the next game and it is often more difficult to ensure the players are ready to play the next game after such a big event.”

How is Forsell doing after he was brought off?

“Forsell received a kick in the calf, there was a lot of bleeding and it became very stiff. I reckon he’ll be stiff for a few days but then he should be okay.”

Are you annoyed that people are asking about Russia and germany when you’ve put in a good performance?

“I’m happy that people talk about Russia and Germany. This is a home game, we want to win all of our home games, and we always want to attack. We did a good job tactically in trying to get at the German team whenever we could. That became more difficult as the game wore on because of the way they played. The Germans cranked up their machine and it was like a steamroller, and because of the way we defended in the last 15 minutes then maybe I’ll be happy in the morning.”

The German onslaught was tough to withstand, did you mark man to man or zonally?

“We zone the dangerous areas and man-mark the dangerous headers. You can zone or man-man, but if the delivery is as good as it was for the Germans and the players coming in are as good and aggressive as they were, then you’ve got problems. When the delivery is as good as it was, and the players coming in are as aggressive as they were, then it’s very difficult to play against.”

He was annoyed with the result, but couldn’t smash any teacups, basically. He was more forthcoming than Hodgson, and his attempts to develop Finland’s footballing identity and style – a stated aim in his reign so far – look a little clearer now. Finland will not play for a draw at home, and so Baxter has to be more confident and relaxed with his squad and in his media appearances.

“Bitter draw” was the headline in Iltalehti, “Mighty start” was what Iltasanomat went for. HBL settled on quoting Daniel Sjölund, who thought that “We lost two important points”, which is about right. “Better than Hodgson” was Mikko Knuutila’s verdict in Iltasanomat, and it is very difficult to argue with it. I think there was more goalmouth action in this one match than there was in an entire qualification campaign under Hodgson, and Finland’s fans deserve the excitement after watching a much more cautious teamin the Euro qualifiers.

Man of the match was Mika Väyrynen, with the recently-returned-from-illness Daniel Sjölund running him a close second. Ilta Sanomat didn’t think so, giving 8/10 to their top-rated players Jonatan Johansson and Markus Heikkinen, whereas HBL gave 9s to Roman Eremenko, Daniel Sjölund and Väyrynen. I couldn’t find player ratings from Helsingin Sanomat, and Iltalehti’s rating system is too weird to explain here.

The consensus was that we’ve been here before. There was a sequence on YLE’s Urheiluruutu recalling the nearest miss Finland have had in qualification for a major tournament, the last-minute clusterfuck against Hungary in 1997. There is more than a passing resemblance to the third German goal last night.

So most people are disappointed, but proud of the performance.The contrast with the ultra-defensive Hodgson era was noted in all the papers, and the aggression Finland showed going forward was great to see. I was pleased that Finland managed that kind of performance without Jari Litmanen, not because he wouldn’t improve the side but because the other players now know they can break teams down without him.

The crowd was fantastic. William’s report has a prescient comment on the atmosphere:

A final word about the crowd. At long last, the Finns have found their singing voice.
At least this is true for the hardcore supporters’ club contingent, who have now moved to a position on the North Bank.
There were a healthy number of them and from where I was sitting they seemed in good voice, and they kept the spirits high the whole time, even after Klose’s final adjustment of the scoreline.
Furthermore, they (and others) stoutly refused to be suckered in to any Mexico waves.
Such things are fine for matches where the lack of excitement on the pitch necessitates making your own entertainment – but this was not one of those games by a long chalk.

This is an obsession among football people in Finland. The presence or absence of ‘football culture’ is a constant source of debate and mockery, with those who try and support the national team in a ‘foreign’ way occasionally derided for their affectation.

There was a poll on radio Rock’s website the other day, asking ‘does Finland have a football culture’. Of course it was immediately targeted by habitues of the main Finnish football forum, and that was probably the idea in the first place. Image, the Finnish ‘style’ mag, ran a bizarre feature a while ago about people watching English Premier League teams on TV in bars, arguing that this was somehow the main manifestation of Finnish football culture.

Well, bollocks to that. The atmosphere was brilliant last night, and all the papers I read acknowledged the fact. You can see a video of some Finland fans warming up for the match near the train station at Nelonen’s website. The song the three hefty lads are singing at the end goes ‘Finland is wonderful, we have sauna, booze and the axe’. A perfunctory summary of the country’s development, but not an inaccurate one.

There was a good tifo before the game, and you can see many more pictures of the game and crowd at the appropriate thread on FF2. Der Spiegel has a slideshow from the match, but I think their cameras were concentrated at the end Germany were attacking. Iltasanomat’s is better.

Lastly, spare a thought for poor Mario Gomez. I hadn’t seen the guy play before he did this against Austria:

I expected great things when he came on against Finland, but instead he managed this:

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One Response

  1. Well written. I didn’t know about Hyypiä not being nominated for Liverpool’s Champions League campaign. Perhaps this shock is the reason for his poor performance yesterday. I’ve been a little disappointed that the “best” Finnish player made such horrible mistakes.
    Speaking of mistakes… the performance of Mario Gomez in the national team is weird. During the past two years he was the best German striker in the Bundesliga but his appearance in the national team during and since the Euro 2008 has been awful. I really wonder why.

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