The footballers of Finland have waited since joining FIFA in 1908 to qualify for the finals of a major tournament, so they were perhaps better equipped than most to ride out the twelve month delay before their debut appearance.
The success of the Huuhkajat (Eagle-owls) has been forged in a steel curtain across the back, welded to a cutting edge spearheaded by none other than early Fantasy Premier League 2019/20 favourite Teemu Pukki (€7.0m) of Norwich City.
EURO 2020 marks their entry to the world of summer competitive football and a good performance might increase the participation levels back home which are currently about half that of ice hockey.
Given that Pukki is Finland’s only UEFA EURO 2020 Fantasy asset priced at over €6.0m managers will be hoping to find some bargains playing early in the Match Day sequence, especially in the defender and goalkeeper positions.
In partnership with UEFA, we continue our series of EURO 2020 articles by examining Finland in detail to see if any of their players can compete for a place in your Fantasy teams.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
Italy were comfortably the class of Qualifying group J, collecting the maximum 30 points from their ten matches. 2004 champions Greece seemed the likely runners-up with Bosnia-Herzegovina also in the running, but it was Finland, gradually adding finesse to organisation and familiarity with manager Markku Kanerva’s tactics, who finished four points clear of third place.
They began with a defeat in Udine, but it took Italy until the 74th minute to add a clinching breakaway goal to their early opener from a hugely-deflected long shot. Three days later a 2-0 win in Armenia became the first of four consecutive qualifiers where Finland vanquished their other group opponents one-by-one without conceding a goal.
They reached half-time in the home tie with Italy at 0-0 and a Pukki penalty nullified Italy’s opener before Jorginho gave the visitors all three points from their own spot kick. A month later Finland suffered their worst defeat of the campaign, a 4-1 reverse in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but, by the time Greece came from behind to beat them in the final game, Finland’s qualification had been confirmed by comfortable home wins over Armenia and Liechtenstein.
FINLAND’S EURO 2020 QUALIFICATION RECORD
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
In terms of individual attacking, the qualifying statistics only give you two places to look. Pukki scored ten of the team’s 16 goals and assisted one of the others.
Left-sided supporting striker Robin Lod (unpriced) of Minnesota United was the nation’s chief assister, but only with three, and was not able to add a goal to that tally.
The defence conceded two twice to the Italians and four in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but six clean sheets from the other seven matches shows how useful a fifth EURO 2020 Fantasy defender, or a goalkeeper, from Finland could be.
FINLAND’S MATCHES IN 2020 AND 2021
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
Having not drawn a game at all in EURO 2020 qualifying, Finland continued to be largely a team that comes away with everything or nothing in their 12 matches over the last eighteen months.
In the UEFA Nations League they were drawn in Group B4 where midfielder Fredrik Jensen (€5.5m) emerged as a new attacking threat, grabbing the only goal of the game in both matches against the Republic of Ireland and notching the second at home to Bulgaria in-between.
Pukki and Lod were on the scoresheet as they completed the double over Bulgaria, but the campaign was bookended by a pair of defeats to Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales who put three past them in Cardiff.
Finnish-born wide player Robert Taylor (unpriced) was another to contribute multiple attacking returns with a goal and two assists across the six Nations League ties.
Pukki was back on form with all three of Finland’s goals in their opening pair of World Cup qualifiers earlier this year against Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
But the team had to be satisfied with two draws as the defence performed less cohesively with some less-familiar starters, including number two goalkeeper Jesse Joronen (€4.5m) of Brescia, playing in a 5-3-2 formation to which they are trying to adapt from their habitual 4-4-2.
Finland’s most recent pre-publication outing was a 2-0 defeat in Sweden fielding a very experimental line-up.
- Most starts: Teemu Pukki, Robin Lod, Glen Kamara, Joona Toivio (all 10), Hradecky (9), Arajuuri (8).
- Most goals: Teemu Pukki (10), Fredrik Jensen (2)
- Most assists: Robin Lod (3), Glen Kamara, Rasmus Schuller, Joel Pohjanpahlo, Lassi Lappalainen (all 1)
- Goals scored: 16
- Goals conceded: 10
- Clean sheets: 6
THE KEY TARGETS
Pukki is clearly the obvious candidate for EURO 2020 Fantasy managers to consider, though he still needs to shake off an ankle knock that kept him out of the friendly defeat to Sweden a few days ago.
He had almost four chances per match in qualifying, with more than 80% of them inside the box, and scored at a rate of exactly one goal per game, getting on the scoresheet in seven of Finland’s ten matches. If you believe that Finland are going to score against Denmark, Russia or Belgium you have to assume that Pukki will be the one putting the ball in the net.
At the other end, @Linn_FPL pointed out after researching goalkeeper performance across all the competitive internationals over the last couple of years that 31 year-old Lukas Hradecky (€4.0m) of Bayer Leverkusen has registered 3.1 saves per game in those matches.
He is the established first choice for Finland behind a defence that, a bit like Burnley or Leeds United in the Premier League, keeps clean sheets while allowing a number of shooting opportunities, but either from distance or with plenty of defenders in the way.
Assuming that he retains his number one status over Joronen he looks to be an absolute bargain as a useful choice for early Match Day returns that can always be replaced by a more expensive goalkeeper if he blanks.
THE LONG SHOTS
Experienced centre-backs Joona Toivio (unpriced) and Paulus Arajuuri (€4.0m) both have three international goals to their credit from more than 50 or more appearances. Toivio likes to take a set-piece and Arajuuri likes to get on the end of one.
During qualifying, Lod achieved the assists that go with the task of supporting Pukki, but only scores at a rate of once every ten games. 23 year-old Fredrik Jensen emerged during the UEFA Nations League campaign as a rival for that spot who can also get goals in his own right. The Augsburg attacker now has seven from 17 appearances.
Taylor got amongst the attacking returns in last year’s Nations League, but a more likely ‘dark horse’ to make a mark in this tournament is 21 year-old Onni Valakari (€5.5m) who started over Taylor in last November’s notable friendly win over World Champions France (who admittedly were resting a number of first choice players) and announced himself on the world stage with a curling left footed strike from just outside the area. The same match also saw a debut goal for Brentford striker Marcus Forss (€5.5m).
Pukki is the team’s regular penalty taker, but backup striker Joel Pohjanpahlo (€6.0m) put one away in the March friendly against Switzerland.
FANTEAM PRICE CORNER
Finland can offer even more value for money in FanTeam with no asset priced higher than €5.0m.
Pukki is one of four compatriots with that price-tag, the rest of the squad costing €4.5m or less.
Hradecky and Arajuuri are among 10 players that cost just €4.0m.
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