Finland 1 Azerbaijan 0

William’s report is here

The game kicked off with a bit of an embarrassing anthem disruption from the North Curve. They kept singing while the Helsinki Police band were giving a decent rendition of Azərbaycan Respublikasının Dövlət Himni, the Azeri national anthem. They’re done great stuff recently, and there was a gushing article in yesterday’s Ilta-Sanomat, educational in tone about what a fan section should be about.

It’d be rubbish if that goodwill was wasted by people taking the worst parts of other countries’ football cultures. I counted 44 police around the Pohjoiskaarre fans at the start of the game, but they were mostly there to watch the game rather than in anticipation of any serious trouble.

Teemu Tainio started the match, surprisingly for me, and Finland lined up like this:

Jääskeläinen

Pasanen, Tihinen, Hyypiä, Kallio

Eremenko, Tainio

Sjölund, Väyrynen, Roiha

Forsell

The Azeri formation was something like this:

Aghayev,

Malikov, Sasha XXX (as he was announced on the team sheet), Shukurov, Chertoganov, Sadigov, Abasov, Mammadov, Zeynalov

Gomes

Subasic

Berti Vogts likes to keep things tight, and his entire objective was a 0-0 draw in Helsinki. His players were disciplined and organised, as well as niggly and cynical. They grappled with Forsell and screamed blue murder at each other whenever a Finland cross came in, as that kind of dangerous excitement should be strictly rationed in the Vogts theory of football.

Quite a few crosses did come in during the first half hour or so, as Finland dominated proceedings. Eremenko was tricky and full of ideas, always able to beat his man before spotting and executing a telling pass, Väyrynen was bright and Roiha extremely fast. The best chance of this period came when Roiha chipped the ball into the box for Väyrynen, who could only blast straight at the keeper. Roiha fizzed a shot just wide, but more often than not the ball would reach Forsell who was being wretsled to the ground by Sadigov and whoever else was nearby.

After that things settled into a Hodgsonesque quagmire of condensed play, with Finland’s full-backs not breaking forward as much and Azerbaijan content to waste time. For a while it seemed like they would not be able to continue play after a free kick for either team without seeking treatment, and the crowd started booing their gamesmanship.

It felt a bit grim at half time. Finland have lost to Azerbaijan in Baku, and last time in Helsinki it came down to Sheki Kuqi’s nose to save the day in the last minute. After Väyrynen’s miss and Sjölund’s failure to get a penalty when blatantly hauled down with only the keeper to beat, the nagging fear was that Finland would just not find a way past the most cynical opponents seen in Helsinki for a long time. The Azeris were throwing themselves in the way of anything and everything in and around the box, aware that the ground was wet and slippery and Aghayev would need protection. They looked comfortable, especially as they clearly had no desire to score a goal themselves.

Thankfully the referee gave Finland a penalty for shirt tugging in the box on 60 minutes. It looked inexplicable from where I was sitting, and the kind of thing that always happens but virtually never gets given, but nobody was that bothered (except the small party of Azeri journalists in the press box). After that Finland hung on, and when things started getting a bit frayed Baxter sent on Litmanen. He didn’t do anything amazing, but he really lifted the crowd and didn’t lose the ball much, so I guess you could say he steadied the ship. Baxter did, anyway.

The funniest press conference was Berti Vogts’s. He came in, gave his opinions on the game, said he only had one player playing abroad whereas the Finns had only one player playing in Finland (not quite true, as both Roiha and Pohja played a role), and that he congratulated Stuart Baxter. Then a quick ‘any questions? no? okay, bye’ before the Azeri journalists hauled him back in to answer for his defensive strategy. Vogts was very dismissive, insulting even, saying ‘you only watch football in Azerbaijan, this is completely different’, without addressing the question. He then went on to say that Finland might finish third, but won’t do better than that.

Baxter said there were more positives than negatives, and that he was very pleased to have gotten this game out of the way. The Russia game will allow Finland to be the ‘hunter’ rather than the ‘hunted’, and that is an easier role, according to Baxter. There will be less pressure on them, and Jonas Von Wendt suggests in today’s HBL that Heikkinen will come in for Roiha to bolster the midfield. In short, it was mission accomplished and not much more. But Finland don’t have to play Azerbaijan again for nearly a year, and that’s something everyone can be happy about.

I went to Atlantis-JJK yesterday as well, had a great time, and will write it up later on.

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3 Responses

  1. Pretty dire performance by Finland but atleast we got the much needed three points.

    P.s. The chanting whilst the Azeri national song was played was totally unintentional (even though Mr. Järviö from Helsingin Sanomat for some reason seems to think otherwise).. The fan section simply didn’t hear that the band had started to play.

  2. Yes, I think what happened during the Azeri national anthem was an accident. They blame it on the sound system, which I understand, but they could have noticed it anyway; all the people present were standing, the screen was filming the Azeri players and everyone probably knows that national anthems are always performed prior to kick-off.
    Anyway, it was out of general excitement rather than out of disrespect for Azerbaijan. It shouldn’t happen, but this time it was an honest mistake and as long as it won’t happen again everything’s fine.

    The game was tough, as expected. Everyone saw who were the better team, but Azerbaijan kept defending and it was always going to be difficult to spell out the difference. The fact that the goal was scored on a penalty doesn’t bear any significance, it was a deserved goal and only a home win would have been a justified result.

    Not totally sure about Eremenko. He wasn’t quite like in the Germany game, giving the ball away needlessly on a couple of occasions. The King didn’t do anything magical, but he did what was important; calming the team down with simple passing and his ability to hold on to the ball. That was exactly what was needed as Azerbaijan looked increasingly dangerous at that stage. And yes, I did like the reception he got.

  3. It’s tough to comment because the game was not shown on anywhere in Minneapolis.

    That being said, while it’s difficult to score on any team that takes no chances offensively and while Finland seem to have dominated the game, one would hope a Finland team that showed such spark against Germany would put one or two past Azerbaijan in the course of regular play. Hopefully the history and challenge will inspire Finland to finish more chances in Moscow.

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