When Finland’s gamers step onto the pitch at their first ever European Championship, the Nordic nation’s hopes will likely be pinned on star striker Teemu Pukki repeating his latest goalscoring success.
Pukki’s 10 objectives in qualifying propelled Finland to their first main match, whereas his attacking prowess this season was key as Norwich Metropolis secured promotion again to the English Premier League.
“In fact, Pukki performs an enormous position in our squad,” Finland supervisor Markku Kanerva stated final week, including that the aspect has “waited many years” to qualify for the finals of a significant championship.
In a rustic of 5.5 million the place ice hockey reigns supreme, Finland’s Euro debut has brought about the recognition of soccer to skyrocket, with Pukki as the game’s new figurehead.
Celebratory “Pukki events” erupted after the workforce certified, whereas cans of “Norwich Metropolis craft beer” now line Finnish grocery store cabinets, bearing Pukki’s face on the yellow label.
“However I am at all times emphasising the workforce effort,” Kanerva is fast so as to add. “He’ll want the opposite gamers to assist him rating objectives.”
For that, Kanerva will have the ability to name on the likes of midfielder Glen Kamara, previously of Arsenal and now of Rangers, and Bundesliga-based Joel Pohjanpalo, in addition to Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky.
New abilities Marcus Forss of Brentford and Pafos’ Onni Valakari additionally made the squad.
The 21-year-olds each scored on their worldwide debut final November, inflicting a shock 2-0 defeat on world champions France.
“We’ll need to defend very nicely in opposition to the highest groups, that is for positive,” Kanerva stated, including that Finland’s unity and level-headedness are amongst their strengths.
– Icelandic inspiration –
The “Eagle Owls”, 54th within the FIFA rankings, will face Denmark, Russia and world primary Belgium within the group stage.
“We are the underdogs on this match however I feel that is one thing we prefer to be, it offers us energy to indicate that we will actually compete at that degree,” Pukki informed a press convention in Helsinki final week.
The workforce will likely be on the lookout for inspiration from Iceland, whose exceptional success over the last European Championship in France noticed them knock out England on their approach to the quarter-finals, roared on by enormous help and their “Viking Thunder Clap”.
Kanerva admitted that he lately invited Iceland’s then supervisor, Lars Lagerback, to share together with his squad the secrets and techniques of “the Icelandic miracle”.
With vastly decreased crowds this time spherical resulting from Covid-19, nevertheless, solely a fraction of the 30,000 Finnish followers who initially purchased tickets to Euro 2020 are anticipated to have the ability to attend.
– Late bloomer –
At 31, Teemu Pukki was one thing of a late bloomer: his profession started in 2006 however his knack for notching up objectives solely really got here to mild as soon as he signed for Danish aspect Brondby in 2014.
He moved to Norwich on a free switch in 2018, promptly scoring 29 instances in his first season.
Whereas identified off the pitch as an unassuming, down-to-earth household man, as soon as within the field his precision and quietness beneath strain make him a harmful murderer.
Laid low at the beginning of Could by a torn ankle ligament, Pukki stated he’s “actually assured” he will likely be again on kind in time for the Euro.
With a tally of 30 objectives for Finland, he’s now simply two in need of the nation’s all-time high goalscorer Jari Litmanen, who helped Ajax to Champions League success in 1995.
Revered as the perfect Finnish footballer ever, Litmanen continues to be affectionately often called “the King”.
However because the Euro will get underway, Finnish followers will likely be keen Pukki to steal the king’s crown.