Who were Finland’s best and worst players during the recent Euro 2012 qualifiers, and how did their three managers’ performances compare? Everyone will have their own opinions, but what do the statistics tell us?
I’ve compiled a spreadsheet with as much data from the ten qualifying matches as I can find, for all 31 players used by Finland. It also includes some basic data such as their ages and total caps, for reference. You can view it in its entirety on Google Docs. As with all my work (except images), it is available under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, which is explained in more detail on this website’s about page.
Most used players
|Player||Matches||Starts||Sub on||Sub off||Minutes|
|Showing top six players, ranked by minutes played.|
Finland had only one ever-present player in their ten qualifying matches: the defender who started at left-back before moving to the centre and taking the captain’s armband, Niklas Moisander. He played every minute of every match, underlining his importance to the team and giving further justification for Mixu Paatelainen’s decision to make him captain. Roman Eremenko may have joined him on a full 900 minutes had he not been suspended for the away match against San Marino, having picked up consecutive yellow cards in the two matches before that.
Leeds United duo Mikael Forssell and Mika Väyrynen were the only other players to feature in every match, both of them coming on as a substitute on more than one occasion. Forssell scored seven goals in 721 minutes, a good record of nearly one goal for every 90 minutes, though that figure is distorted by four goals over two matches against San Marino and being substituted towards the end of four games. It was evident from the recent Hungary match that Finland play better and create more chances when Teemu Pukki or Timo Furuholm are on the field instead of Forssell, though they didn’t manage to score any goals between them in the qualifiers.
Kasper Hämäläinen is perhaps the surprise name in the above table. He had only won eight caps over four years before the qualifiers kicked off, but he ended up playing in all but one of the ten matches, scoring four goals along the way and finishing as Finland’s second-highest goalscorer. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say he went from being a fringe player to being a key part of Finland’s first team at only 25 years old. After Hämäläinen, the only other player to play more than 600 minutes was Petri Pasanen, who started all of the first six matches but then only one of the final four, as he picked up an injury and seemed to fall down the pecking order.
Players whose presence led to most goals
|Player||Matches||Minutes||Goals||Team goals||Team goals per 90 min|
|Aleksei Eremenko Jr||6||338||0||9||2.40|
|Showing top and bottom three outfield players with at least four matches played, ranked by team goals per ninety minutes.|
Goalscoring was a major problem for Finland – aside from the home wins over San Marino and Moldova, they didn’t score more than one goal in any match – so I thought it would be interesting to see which players were involved in the most goals, and which players were involved in the least. I couldn’t find any data for assists, and besides, that only credits the one player who touched the ball before the goalscorer, whereas in reality all the outfield players have a direct or indirect contribution to the goals. Therefore, I counted how many goals were scored by Finland when each individual player was on the pitch. Then, looking at only players who had featured in at least four matches, I divided it by how many minutes each player had played to see how much of a contribution they made to goals pro rata, and multiplied it by ninety to give friendlier numbers.
Veli Lampi tops the table, with Finland scoring nearly three goals for every ninety minutes he was on the pitch, but that is distorted by his presence in the 8-0 win over San Marino and absence from many of Finland’s low-scoring matches. Aleksei Eremenko Jr gives the first significant result, I think, as he played in all of Finland’s first six matches and was substituted either on or off in every one of them. Finland scored only eleven goals in those six matches, and he was on the pitch for nine of them. His absence from the final four matches through injury could go some way to explaining why Finland found it difficult to score. Daniel Sjölund rounds off the top three, which I think is also an interesting result, as he was off the pitch for seven of Finland’s eight goals against San Marino at home, and was substituted either on or off in his other five matches too.
From the bottom up, Teemu Pukki’s presence in the team yielded only 0.58 goals per 90 minutes, the lowest of all the players with at least four appearances. He was often chosen to play as a lone striker, and as he wasn’t getting on the scoresheet himself, Finland were struggling for goals. As I have said before, he seemed to try too hard when he made his first appearance of the qualifiers, after he had been hyped up by good performances for HJK and a move to Schalke 04 of Germany. He now has six caps but still no international goals, which isn’t a cause for concern yet but will become one if it carries on for too long.
Tim Sparv is next from bottom, and I think that is actually more worrying than Pukki’s result, as Sparv plays in the centre of midfield and therefore has a direct impact on how the whole team plays. After a couple of appearances at the beginning of the campaign, he made way for Perparim Hetemaj for the middle part before returning for the last couple of matches. I thought he played quite poorly against Sweden, disappearing whenever Finland got the ball and sought to attack, but improved somewhat against Hungary, getting forward more and being involved in a couple of his team’s better chances. Even though Finland scored against Sweden and not against Hungary, I hope he either plays as he did in the latter match or drops back into a more defensive role to allow Roman Eremenko to play further up. Joona Toivio is the other name in the bottom three, but I don’t think that means very much; his main task is to stop goals from being conceded at Finland’s end of the pitch, though he did score one goal against Sweden.
Players whose presence led to most points
|Player||Matches||Minutes||Team points||Weighted points||Weighted pts per 90 min|
|Showing top and bottom three players with at least four matches played, ranked by weighted points per ninety minutes.|
Looking at how many points each player was responsible for is perhaps a fairer measurement than just goals alone, as points are most important for the team, and an 8-0 thrashing yields as many points as a 1-0 steal. A player who comes on for the last ten minutes can usually take less credit for the result as the player with 80 minutes who he replaced, so the above table’s “weighted points” column is calculated as the sum of the proportions of normal time minutes played by each player to the full ninety minutes in matches where Finland picked up at least one point. If that seems difficult to understand, perhaps an example would help: Alexander Ring played 72 minutes when Finland beat Moldova, so he gets (72/90)*3 = 2.40 weighted points for that match, and he played the full 90 minutes of Finland’s draw with Hungary, so gets (90/90)*1 = 1 weighted point for that match, making 3.40 weighted points in total.
I then divided that weighted points figure by the number of minutes each player was on the pitch for, and multiplied it by 90 again to show how many points each player was “responsible” for pro rata. Veli Lampi is top of the table again, as Finland won two and drew one of the four matches he featured in. Those two victories were against San Marino, but I don’t think it’s a completely meaningless result, as he played well when he came on against Hungary last week, in a match that ended in a draw. Jukka Raitala is next up, which reflects Finland’s upturn in fortunes after his introduction to the side at the half-way point of the campaign. Perparim Hetemaj rounds off the top three, which I think shows once again that Stuart Baxter should have put personal differences aside and picked him for the three qualifying matches he was in charge of.
Two of the bottom three players in this table are the same as the team goals table: Teemu Pukki and Tim Sparv. Sparv is bottom this time around with only 0.21 points won for every 90 minutes he played. To put that into perspective, Finland’s average points per 90 minutes was exactly 1.00, as they picked up 10 points from as many matches – if their average was 0.21, they would have finished the campaign with a measly two points. That’s a cause for concern, although Sparv was perhaps a little unfortunate in the matches he was picked for: four defeats and one draw, missing Finland’s two victories over San Marino and their one win over Moldova. Teemu Pukki moves up slightly as he took part in that Moldova match. Roni Porokara is sandwiched between the two with another poor return of only 0.28 points per 90 minutes, though that seems slightly harsh as he has put in some good performances in Finland’s recent friendlies, including goals in both of Finland’s matches (home and away) against Belgium.
Managers’ relative performances
|Manager||Matches||Expected points||Points won||% of available||% of expected|
|Showing all three managers, sorted chronologically.|
Finland played under three managers, or head coaches, in the course of the Euro 2012 campaign. They were Stuart Baxter (three matches), Olli Huttunen (one match) and Mixu Paatelainen (six matches). Marrku Kanerva took charge of the team for three friendlies this spring, and continues to serve as Finland’s assistant manager, but did not oversee any competitive fixtures.
First up was Stuart Baxter, who took over the reigns in 2008 and served until 2010, when he parted ways by “mutual agreement”, whatever that really means, with the Finnish Football Association (SPL). He fulfilled the remainder of his contract, which ran until the end of Finland’s participation in Euro 2012, in a rather ambiguous advisory role. It was something akin to a scout, although he apparently refused to give any information away about Sweden, where he works, when Finland played them a short while ago. Anyway, he managed Finland for their matches against Moldova, Netherlands and Hungary at the start of the campaign, failing to pick up a single point in the process. My estimation (the “Expected points” column in the table above) is that Finland should have picked up six points from those three matches, by beating Moldova away and Hungary at home. Of course, that means he picked up zero percent of both the available and expected points.
Olli Huttunen was the caretaker manager when Finland played San Marino in their fourth qualifying match. They were expected to win, and they did, by eight goals to nil. Huttunen, who has recently taken over at Veikkausliiga side VPS, therefore picked up 100% of the available and expected points, although it’s not really a useful comparison.
Mixu Paatelainen took over for the last six matches of the campaign, remains in charge now, and has a contract to the end of Finland’s participation in Euro 2014. He oversaw Finland’s worst and best results of the campaign, the worst being the 5-0 defeat in Sweden, and the best being the 4-1 victory over Moldova in Helsinki. In total, the team picked up seven points under his guidance, and their performances also improved in a couple of their defeats, though the statistics do not take that into account. He picked up 38.89% of the available points, and 87.50% of the expected points, which I made to be eight: an away win over San Marino, a home win over Moldova, a home draw to Sweden and an away draw to Hungary.
I think that those figures suggest the team has improved under Paatelainen, which is certainly the impression I have got by watching them, but that they are still falling a little short of their potential. Of course, you may disagree with my expectations of their results, but I don’t think a total of seventeen points was unrealistic – they should have been good enough to beat Moldova and Hungary in the opening three matches, and they did play well enough to deserve a point in their home defeat to Sweden. They would still not have qualified for Euro 2012 with that tally, but they would have given a much better account of themselves. But I’m not trying to rewrite history – after all, if Finland had won two of their opening three matches, Baxter might still have his job, and who knows how the rest of the campaign would have played out.
I feel I should apologise for the length and density of this article, which must make it difficult to read all the way through. Hopefully the tables are clear enough to give you the gist of the points I have made. I am committed to this being the last article I write on Finland’s Euro 2012 qualifiers – I’ve certainly written plenty of them already, including a two-part recap of their matches and a player-by-player analysis of one of their final matches.
There are just a couple of things I want to clarify about the spreadsheet:
- All matches were considered to last ninety minutes, with injury time at the end of both halves not taken into consideration, because reliable data on the amount of injury time played in each match is not available. This means the “minutes” column is not entirely accurate, particularly for Berat Sadik, whose only appearance was as a 90th minute substitute in the away match against San Marino – he is listed as having played zero minutes.
- Perparim Hetemaj received two yellow cards in the home match against Netherlands, which led to a red card. In the spreadsheet, that is listed as a single red card and no yellow cards, as the red card effectively replaced the two yellows. Additionally, he picked up a yellow card in the home match against Moldova.
If there is anything puzzling you about any of the data or how it has been calculated, don’t hesitate to contact me, as I’ll be more than happy to explain it.