Twenty-one World Cups. Fifteen European Championships. One hundred and twelve years of Finnish football.
Finland have never qualified for either of the two major tournaments they are eligible for. A few Olympic Games appearances (including a fourth place in 1912) have popped up, but that is thirty-six tournaments that Finland have not graced.
On Friday November 15th 2019, Finland will almost certainly qualify for Euro 2020.
Teemu Pukki scoring against Armenia in October 2019
Victory against Liechtenstein in Helsinki will see the Finns reach the finals. The visitors are ranked 181st in the current FIFA rankings (the Finns are 55th), while the records in Group J show that they've two points from eight matches. Even if Finland don't win, it would take an unlikely set of events to prevent qualification - a draw would suffice if Bosnia fail to win in Italy. Even if Finland lose, a Bosnia defeat and Armenia failing to defeat Greece would do. And... There is still an away game in Greece on Tuesday if required.
Interest in Finland's expected triumph has attracted media from all over the world. The BBC World Service's excellent World Football programme has broadcast from the camp, featuring interviews with SPL sporting director Hannu Tihinen and defenders Leo and Sauli Väisänen; while the Guardian featured an interview with captain Tim Sparv as part of their coverage. Even the Daily Mail featured a complimentary article about a group of foreigners.
I wrote in a separate post on the Finnish Football Show website about how Norwich City have jumped on the bandwagon, hanging onto the coattails of their striker Teemu Pukki by opening a pop-up shop in Helsinki and hosting a club night after the match.
”There’s many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip”. We’re not taking anything for granted. We’ll prepare ourselves mentally, physically and tactically so that we’re 100% ready on Friday. In football, as in life, nothing is given to you for free. You have to earn it. pic.twitter.com/VKtOuXI3Kv— Tim Sparv (@TimSparv) November 12, 2019
There have been elements of caution - mostly from the players themselves. Finland have come close before, in 1997 and 2007. Yet even the footballers are still people. Goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky talks about enjoying a beer after the game, while Pukki promised to media that Finland would win the match.
The enthusiasm from Finland supporters has been infectious and a treat to observe. Tickets for the match are being offered on auction sites for over a thousand Euros each, competitions to win tickets are pounced upon. It's impossible to predict how many fans will travel to the finals, especially as we won't have an idea of the venues for a couple of weeks at least. Who knows, plenty would even go to Baku if required.
A lot has been made of the supposed golden generation of Litmanen, Hyypiä and Forssell. Hopefully the next generation will seek to emulate the glories of Pukki, Sparv and Hradecky.
Hero."I hope to have a beer in my hand" 🍺— DW Sports (@dw_sports) November 13, 2019
Bayer Leverkusen and Finland GK Lukas Hradecky is ready for Friday, when Finland have the chance to secure their place at #Euro2020... pic.twitter.com/C0ALptxZC3