It’s been nearly a week since Finland’s 8-0 demolition of San Marino. In this post, I try to find out how meaningful that result was, and what it could mean for some of Finland’s main players.
The margin of victory, eight clear goals, was a competitive record for Finland, but San Marino only have to look as far back as last month to find an identical thrashing: they lost by the same scoreline to Hungary on the 8th of October. Their only interim result was a 0-2 defeat at home to Moldova.
So what can we really say about Finland’s victory? At the very least, it puts them on par with Hungary. That makes sense: the two teams were evenly matched when the Eastern Europeans visited Helsinki recently, despite their injury time winner. I also think that, if Finland play as they did against San Marino, they could beat Moldova – though of course they did not manage that a couple of months ago in Chisinau.
Overall, despite the poor quality of the opposition, Finland’s performance should serve as a welcome confidence boost. A loss, or even a draw would have been disastrous, but the sound victory can now serve as a platform to move on from. Perhaps unfortunately, the Huuhkajat aren’t going to play another qualifier for some seven months, when they take on San Marino again in the reverse fixture.
What will the team look like in that match? Jari Litmanen played fantastically against San Marino, but a cynic could – perhaps justifiably – say that he had just found his level. It was a match where speed of thought was more important than speed of running, and that suited “The King” perfectly, but he will be 40 by next June and it will surely be past the time to hang up his boots.
Sami Hyypiä must also be considering whether he has played his last match for Finland. Indeed, a story emerged in the Rheinische Post at the weekend that he was “99% sure” he had played his last game for the national side, but he has since clarified his comments, saying “when I do make that decision, the German press will not be where I announce it”.
My guess is that Hyypiä will retire soon, perhaps after Finland’s next international friendly match, and that Litmanen may make his decision before then. Although he has been tipped to retire many times before and never actually gone through with it, the way he approached and applauded the Pohjoiskaarre, Finland’s most vocal and passionate section of supporters, after the San Marino match, made me think he was saying “thank you and good-bye”.
Just as open to speculation is Olli Huttunen’s future as caretaker-coach. If it was his half-time team talk and substitution which inspired Finland to turn a drab 1-0 into a rampant 8-0 – and I posit that it was – then he may yet have a more permanent future in charge of the national team, even if that one result doesn’t exactly prove or disprove his managerial ability.
But enough guessing. I’d like to briefly comment on Mikael Forssell’s performance, both in the San Marino match and in all the qualifiers so far. “Miklu” doesn’t hold anything like the same affections in the hearts of Finnish football fans, and I’ve written before on this blog questioning the wisdom of playing him as a lone striker for the national team, but he has now scored five times in three matches, moved to third in the list of top Euro 2012 qualifying goalscorers, and overtaken Ari Hjelm and Jonatan Johansson in Finland’s list of all-time top scorers. His hat-trick against San Marino was the product of no small amount of work, and it seems like his limited appearances with Hannover 96 (one start in 13 matches in the Bundesliga so far this season) aren’t affecting his determination to do well for Finland. I hope, for his own sake as well as the team’s, that his goalscoring form continues into next year.
As Finland aren’t playing again for some time, I’m going to update this blog less frequently. Rather than promising a set number of times per week or month, I’ll just update it when I can, and of course whenever a significant story breaks regarding the national team. Between postings, you can follow me on Twitter, and I’ll try to respond to any comments left on these articles.