Finland’s national soccer team has existed for over a century and gone about its business quietly for much of that time - never spectacularly successful, but also seldom disastrously poor.
However, in 2020, they achieved the improbable by qualifying for their first ever European Championships. To some extent, it is surprising that it took them so long to reach a major tournament - Finland have never participated in the finals of the FIFA World Cup either.
Perhaps less surprisingly, Finland failed to qualify from Group B, but only because they were not one of the four best third-placed teams. They finished third, having defeated Denmark 1-0 in their opening game, but then falling 1-0 to Russia and 2-0 to Belgium.
The early years of the Finnish national soccer team
Despite Finland being a grand duchy of the Russian Empire, their soccer association was founded in 1907. A year later, Finland became a member of FIFA.
In 1911, Finland played their first international against Sweden in Helsinki, losing 1-0. Finland then participated in the soccer tournament at the 1912 Summer Olympics, beating Italy and the Russian Empire, but losing their bronze medal match against the Netherlands.
Following the 1918 Civil War, Finland's sport was divided into the right-wing Finnish Gymnastics and Sports Federation (SVUL) and the leftist Finnish Workers' Sports Federation (TUL). The Finnish Soccer Association was a member of the SVUL.
Although each side had its own championship series, only players under the SVUL banner were eligible to play for the Finnish national team. The Finnish Workers' Sports Federation soccer team, meanwhile, played in tournaments organised by the international labour movement.
Although TUL players were ineligible to play for the national team between 1919 and 1939, many defected to play international soccer anyway. The two unions merged in 1956.
The Finnish national team in the post-war years
Finland lost to hosts Austria in the first round of the 1952 Summer Olympics, but won the unofficial Nordic Championship in 1964 and 1966. In their early years of participating in European Championship qualifying, Finland were well off the pace required to feature at the tournament finals.
The late 20th century for Finnish soccer
Finland's fortunes improved in the late 1970s and the 1980s. They missed out on qualifying for Euro 1980 by one point and the 1986 FIFA World Cup by two points.
In 1989, Jari Litmanen began his international career and he went on to become the biggest star in the Finland national team. Litmanen would go on to become a star at Ajax and inspire fellow Finnish soccer stars to play in top European competitions, also going on to play for Barcelona and Liverpool himself.
In 1996, Richard Moller Nielsen, who had guided Denmark to their shock win in Euro '92, was hired with the aim of leading Finland into the 1998 FIFA World Cup. He narrowly missed out on guiding them to qualification and then also failed to see them into the Euro 2000 finals.
The Finnish national team in the present day
Antti Muurinen took over as head coach in 2000 and presided over Finland's golden generation, featuring players such as Antti Niemi, Sami Hyypia, Teemu Tainio and Mikael Forssell, as well as Litmanen. However, he was unable to lead them to the 2002 World Cup or Euro 2004 and paid with his job for poor results in the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Roy Hodgson took over as manager in January 2006 and came with huge pedigree, having previously managed at Inter Milan, but stepped down after failing to lead Finland to qualification for Euro 2008. Finland were only just edged into the tournament finals by Portugal.
There was some success under Hodgson's leadership as the team rose to a best-ever FIFA World Rankings position of 33rd. Hodgson was later knighted in Finland in 2012.
"I enjoyed my life in Finland very much. Not only in football, but outside of it as well," Hodsgon was quoted as saying by the BBC.
"I hope that my relationship with Finland, which is already great, becomes even greater."
Hodgson was succeeded by Stuart Baxter, but he was unpopular by the end of his reign amid reports of falling out with key players. He was sacked in November 2010 as Finland had dropped to 86th in the FIFA World Rankings. This was despite the fact that Baxter had a strong pedigree in Scandinavia after his heroic title win with AIK in 1998, despite the team having scored the fewest goals in the Swedish Allsvenskan.
Performances during qualification for the 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cup campaigns and Euro 2012 and 2016 were disappointing. However, Teemu Pukki's sensational form saw Finland qualify for Euro 2020, their first major tournament.
Finland opened their account strongly, beating Denmark 1-0 in Copenhagen. However, the main story of this game was Christian Eriksen collapsing on the pitch just before half-time.
These were the only points that Finland secured at Euro 2020, as they went on to be defeated by both Russia and Belgium. They finished third in their group, narrowly missing out on qualifying for the last-16 as they weren't one of the four best third-placed teams.
Legends of the Finnish national soccer team
Sami Hyypia, Mikael Forssell and Teemu Pukki are among the players who can claim to be legends of the Finnish national soccer team. However, Jari Litmanen was the player who paved the way for several others and is likely to be viewed by most as the main legend in Finland's history.
The Finnish national team's main rivals
The fanbase of the Finnish national team
Finland has a population of approximately 5.5million people and soccer is a growing sport. Ice hockey is the most popular spectator sport, but soccer has more registered players.
- Jun 21, 2021
- Jun 16, 2021