Finland defeats Northern Ireland 2-0; secures second consecutive European Championship place

November 17, 2023

Finland secured its spot in the 2024 Football Euros after defeating Northern Ireland 2-0 in Helsinki. The result combined with Denmark defeating Slovenia simultaneously, guaranteed the Finns a top two finish and thus a second consecutive European Championship appearance, after their first one in 2021.

The Finns knew that they simply had to take more points against Northern Ireland in Friday’s match than Slovenia took from Copenhagen to progress. Having claimed 17 points from seven matches, their chances of progressing were near certain heading into Friday, as Slovenia trailed them by two points, and Finland had a matchday ten San Marino match to fall back on in case of failure Friday. Even so, the coaching staff stressed the want to progress in front of the home fans. Northern Ireland’s journey had been a massive disappointment, claiming just 8 points from seven, and securing their absence from a fifth consecutive European Championship.

It was a slow start on the rainy Helsinki evening. Finland controlled posession, but in the first half, it was the Northern Irish who had the best chances, albeit they were slim as well.

As the second half started, the Finns started using their posession to pile pressure on the visitors. It was almost on their first chance of the game that Oliver Antman was freed after a short pass combination near midfield in tight space, and a brilliant pass from Robin Lod, which played Antman through on goal. He was clipped from behind by captain Johnny Evans as he prepared to shoot. A red card and a penalty, which VAR confirmed was inside the box. Teemu Pukki made no mistake from the spot, bagging his sixth goal of the qualifying stage, even with Oliver Antman for most. The rest of the team combined has just five.

After the red, it was all Finland. The Northern Irish struggled getting the ball past their third. A second goal was inevitable. A low Pukki cross in the 70th found the leg of fellow striker Joel Pohjanpalo, who guided the ball with one touch between the goalkeeper’s legs. 2-0 Finland.

The last 20 was rather dull, though the atmosphere in the stadium was electric. Some 36,000 spectators watched, surely also keeping an eye on events in Copenhagen, preparing to celebrate something that five years ago seemed incredible: a second consecutive Euro qualification.

A final whistle eventually freed the visitors, but not before Finland would make it one more. A Robin Lod added time free kick cross found the knee of Rasmus Schuller, who, half-accidentally turned it in to make it three nile.

In Copenhagen, the Danish, who could secure first place in the group, not that it mattered much, handled business with the Slovenians to help their Nordic neighbors. A four-nile dominating performance gave the Parken fans something to cheer for, but it can be inferred that it was the Finns who celebrated the result more.

The Finns, who are a sport-loving people, had strangely not qualified for the World Cup or European Championships, ever. Even in the days of Jari Litmanen and Sami HyypiΓ€, the Finns could not progress beyond agonizing last matchday dissapointments. Euro 2020 became the first
major tournament the country qualified for, as Teemu Pukki’s goals helped the Finns to second in their group, ahead of Bosnia.

Four years ago scenes in Helsinki where of jubilation, and fans stormed the pitch as the final whistle blew. This time around, the celebrations are hardly quite as dramatic, but Finns sure are more happy than most countries to qualify. Head coach Markku Kanerva commented: “It’s really special, if you told me we’d make it (Euro’s) twice in a row, I wouldn’t believe it, this has been another fantastic journey, and I’m so proud of the guys.”

Finland’s journey has been impressive, though admittedly they were drawn into a rather easu Group H, with Denmark, Kazakhstan, Slovenia, Northern Ireland, and San Marino. Finland defeated group winners Denmark at home, San Marino at home (with the away match still to play), Kazakhstan twice, Slovenia at home, while drawing away and Northern Ireland twice.

As it stands, Denmark have secured first place, with 24 points from nine matches, and Finland second, with 20 from nine. Slovenia will be third, with 16 points after nine. Slovenia still has hope of progression throught the Nations League route. Kazakhstan and Northern Ireland are still in the hunt for an arbitrary fourth place finish, while San Marino seem to be going out with zero points, again.