Finland’s national football 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.
For fans not too clued up on Finnish football, now may be the ideal time to get acquainted with the spectacularly unspectacular history of the Finnish national team.
Finland national football team early history and dispersion
While Finland was a grand duchy of the Russian empire, their football association was founded in 1907. In 1908, Finland became a member of FIFA.
In 1911, Finland played their first international against Sweden in Helsinki, losing 1-0. Finland participated in the football 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 Football 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 football 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 football anyway. The two unions merged in 1956.
Finland national football team 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.
Finland national football team in the late 20th century
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 footballers to play in top European competitions, also going on to play for Barcelona and Liverpool himself.
In 1996, Richard MÃ¸ller Nielsen, who won Euro 1992 with Denmark in a shock outcome, was hired to lead Finland to 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.
Finland national football team present era
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 qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
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 became unpopular by the end of his reign amid reports of falling out with key players and was sacked in November 2010. Finland dropped to 86th in the FIFA World Rankings with Baxter at the helm. This despite the fact that Baxter had pedigree in Scandinavia after his heroic title win with AIK in 1998 despite the team scoring 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. The tournament was delayed due to COVID-19, but when they do take part, it will be their first appearance at a major tournament.
"I'm so excited and I can't wait to play those games," Pukki was quoted as saying by Sky Sports. "It's the biggest dream of my career to go to a major tournament with Finland. It's been a dream for all Finnish football people everywhere, and we finally did it for the first time ever.
"It means so much, and it's been a long time coming. We've been close a couple of times before that but never quite did it. You could see what it meant to Finland when we qualified, because pretty much the whole country went crazy. It was a massive party.
"I have a personal history in Denmark and they are our first group game, so I'm really looking forward to that. But all the games will be really exciting. The aim is to get out of the group and then see what happens at the next stage. That's the target."
Finland national football team legends
Sami Hyypia, Mikael Forssell and Teemu Pukki are among the players who can claim to be legends of the Finnish national football team (or, to be more precise, Pukki can claim to be a legend in the making). 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.
Finland national football team rivalries
Russia are generally viewed as the main rival's of Finland's national football team.
Finland national football team fanbase
Finland has a population of approximately 5.5 million people and football is a growing sport, but it is not the most popular spectator sport yet, as it is topped by ice hockey. However, football has more registered players than hockey.