Finland team guide Women’s Euro 2022: stars, players, coach, tactics, expectations...
Needing a win against Portugal at home on a very cold day in Helsinki, again they took their time, a Sällström goal securing qualification.
Finland were quite satisfied after the draw for the 2022 Euro qualification, having been paired with Scotland from pot 1 and Portugal from pot 3. It could have been a lot worse, so to speak. So Finland set about getting results with a key one coming in the last game of 2019, away to Portugal on an awful pitch near Porto. In a dramatic finish, Finland equalised from a corner in the last minute, Anna Westerlund blocking a Portuguese defender so that Linda Sällström could score.
And that set the tone for the rest of the campaign, Finland making a habit of scoring late, important goals. Away to Finland it was Amanda Rantanen who scored a late winner in the most dramatic and bizarre circumstances. A breakaway move led to Rantanen being one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Her shot hit the keeper, rebounded on to her face and in to goal.
Then “all” Finland had to do was to beat Portugal at home on a very cold day in Helsinki. Again they took their time but in the end Sällström scored a lovely goal in stoppage time to ensure qualification for England 2022.
The coach, Anna Signeul, has been in charge now since 2017 and she sticks to her tried and trusted 4-4-2 formation. They rely on a stingy defence that conceded just twice in qualifying. However, at the Tournoi France in February against high quality opposition such as France, Netherlands and Brazil they shipped eight goals in three games, struggling with defending set pieces and crosses.
Finland try to play on the counter-attack but, because the full-backs are heavily involved going forward, it often leaves space in behind them. This summer they are in the group of death with Germany, Spain and Denmark, but that doesn’t seem to worry Signeul. “The group is exciting,” she said after the draw. “All the teams can beat each other and the overall strength of the group means that we don’t have to win all our games to go through.”
One small concern going into the tournament is that Signeul’s backroom staff has changed several times in the past few years. Assistant coach Maiju Ruotsalainen and fitness coach Anne Mäkinen left at the end of 2019 and the new fitness coach Lasse Lagerblom said his goodbyes the following year. And after the qualification campaign a new assistant coach, Lars Mosander, also departed. There have been suggestions that her leadership is poor but no one has said anything in public.
The Swede Anna Signeul is a very experienced head coach and took Scotland to the Euros for the first time in 2017. She left the post after 12 years later that summer to take charge of Finland. “Jesse Owens once said that if you think you are going to get beat, you will get beat. If you think you can win, you can win. And I believe in that,” she once said. The head coach’s contract expires at the end of the year and no one will be surprised if she leaves her post after the Euros.
Natalia Kuikka has been chosen as Finland’s Player of the Year three times already, and she is only 26 years old. An extremely versatile player, she started her career in attacking positions, playing left winger at the 2013 Euros at the age of 17, for example. In her club team, Portland Thorns, she plays right wingback but Signeul has moved her to central defence for her country. She is a graduate criminologist from Florida State University, where she won the NCAA championship and was voted into the Guardian’s top 100 female players of the year in 2020 after winning Damallsvenskan with Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC. No other Finnish player has made that list. “My time in Sweden was my first glimpse into being a professional football player,” she told herfootballhub.com, “and it really taught me how to be one, how to put myself first and what it means to be a pro player.”
Eveliina Summanen is the next Anne Mäkinen in the Finnish national team’s midfield. She is practically the only younger player who has taken a place in Signeul’s starting lineup. She is a box to box player who tackles hard, has a quality shot and is also quite good in the air (despite not being the tallest). Summanen took a huge step in January 2022 when she moved from Kristianstad in Sweden to Tottenham. She will be the key player for the foreseeable future and scored the only goal when Finland beat Scotland 1-0 in the Euro qualifiers. “That was the most important goal of my career so far,” she said after the match.
Probable line up
Goalkeeper: Tinja-Riikka Korpela
Right back: Tuija Hyyrynen
Right central defender: Anna Westerlund
Left central defender: Natalia Kuikka
Left back: Emma Koivisto
Right winger: Adelina Engman
Central midfielder: Eveliina Summaen
Central midfielder: Emmi Alanen
Left winger: Sanni Franssi
Second striker/Forward: Ria Öling
Forward: Linda Sällström
Bubbling under: There is an opportunity that Koivisto will play at leftwinger. Then Elli Pikkujämsä will probably play leftback and Sanni Franssi probably to the bench. BUT: Anna Signeul has made changes to the permanent line up very rarely.
For her longevity and goalscoring record, it has to be Laura Österberg Kalmari. She represented Finland between 1996 and 2001, winning 130 caps. Only Anna Westerlund has more international games for Finland than her. She is also second on the all-time list of Finland’s goalscorers (behind Linda Sällström) with 41. One of those goals was a 2-2 equaliser against England at Euro 2005 (although Finland eventually lost the game 3-2) , having already scored the opening goal against Denmark in that tournament. At club level she won the women’s Champions League in 2003 and 2004 while with Umeå IK and finished her career with Sky Blue FC, founding members of the NWSL. Now she lives in Stockholm, where she is a teacher and youth football coach.
Finland made their tournament debut in 2005 and faced England at the quaintly named City of Manchester Stadium (now the Etihad). They gave the hosts a run for their money, coming back from 2-0 down to equalise but in the end lost to a Karen Carney goal in stoppage time. After a 0-0 draw against Sweden the Finns beat Denmark to qualify for the semis, their best ever result. There, though, Germany were too strong, winning 4-1. Four years later Finland hosted the tournament and progressed serenely to the quarters where, gallingly, they lost to England with the same scoreline as in the last tournament, 3-2. In 2013 Finland needed to beat Denmark in their last group game to reach the knockout stage but drew 1-1 despite having a great chance towards the end and in 2017 they did not qualify.
Realistic aim this summer
Finland are in a very tough group, with Spain and Germany regarded as world class and Denmark reaching the final of the last Euros. If Finland get more than one point it would be a great achievement and maybe history is on their side – they have been drawn together with Denmark in their group all three times they have been at the finals and are yet to lose against them.