Sunday 6/20/21
FOOTBALL

Meet Finland's rivals at Euro 2020

The modest Finnish team has qualified for the first time to play a first-rate international tournament.

Players of the Russian national team celebrate the tying goal in a friendly against Poland on June 1 in Wroclaw. Image: Twitter/@TeamRussia.
Players of the Russian national team celebrate a goal in a friendly against Poland on 1 June in Wroclaw. Image: Twitter/@TeamRussia.

The 'Huuhkajat' (Eagle Owls, in English), as the Finnish national soccer team is known, will make history on Saturday 12 June when they take to the grass of the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen to play their first match of Euro 2020.

The modest Finnish squad coached by Markku Kanerva has qualified for the first time to play a first-rate international tournament.

Their goal now is to perform well in the group stage and, if all goes well, to move on to the second round.

But to do so, they must surpass other top-level teams, with much more experience than the Finns in this type of tournament.

Finland is in Group B of Euro 2020, along with Denmark, Russia and Belgium, squads that undoubtedly pose a challenge for the Finns.

Belgium

06 June 2021, Belgium, Brussels: Croatia's Domagoj Vida and Belgium's Romelu Lukaku battle for the ball during the International Friendly soccer match between Belgium and Croatia at the King Baudouin Stadium. Photo: Dirk Waem/BELGA/dpa

Belgium's Romelu Lukaku (R) battles for the ball during the Friendly match between against Croatia. Photo: Dirk Waem/dpa.

The Belgium team has played 6 Euro finals (1972, 1980, 1984, 2000, 2016, 2021).

Belgium are enjoying a golden generation of talent and had little trouble in qualifying for the finals two years on from finishing third at the World Cup.

Coach Roberto Martinez can call on a huge array of attacking skill including captain Eden Hazard of Real Madrid, Romelu Lukaku of Inter Milan and Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City.

Steel in the midfield could be provided by Axel Witsel, who is included after injury to protect an experienced defence.

Belgium may feel that time is running out to make the most of a unique squad in their history but will be confident of their best continental result since reaching the final, in 1980, after a perfect qualifying campaign of 10 wins.

Denmark

06 June 2021, Denmark, Copenhagen: Denmark's Yussuf Poulsen in action during the International Friendly soccer match between Denmark and Bosnia and Herzegovina at Broendby Stadium. Photo: Kim Price/CSM via ZUMA Wire/dpa

Denmark's Yussuf Poulsen in action during a Friendly match against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: Kim Price/dpa.

Denmark has played 9 Euro finals (1964, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2012, 2021).

Denmark’s qualification went right to the wire but a final day draw at Ireland ensured they finished runners-up to Switzerland in Group D.

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel will hope to repeat some of father Peter’s heroics from 1992 but even the most optimistic of Danish fans will not believe another title is feasible.

Instead, progressing from the group for the first time in 16 years will be the target and if midfielder Christian Eriksen is at his best, that should be possible.

But scoring could be tricky despite the best efforts of RB Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen.

Russia

Russia's striker Aleksandr Sobolev. Photo: Twitter/@Team Russia.Russia's striker Aleksandr Sobolev. Photo: Twitter/@Team Russia.

The Russia squad has played 12 Euro finals (1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, 2021).

Russia were at a low ebb prior to the home World Cup of 2018 but a spirited run to the quarter-finals lifted the mood around Stanislav Cherchesov’s national team.

A simple qualifying group helped them reach the Euros with little difficulty with an almost exclusively home-based squad which will now be severely tested.

Aleksandr Golovin of Monaco is a key player and so is attacking captain Artem Dzyuba from Zenit St Petersburg.

Russia reached the 2008 semis but are yet to match the success of the Soviet Union which won the first title in 1960 and reached the final 1964, 1972 and 1988.

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