Finland have claimed their 2022 EUROs qualification after a nail-biting late victory against Portugal. They rejoin the championship for the first time in eight years.
After 90 frustrating minutes, neither side had managed to break the deadlock. It looked to be a goalless match, with the Finns falling back on their match against Cyprus for hopes of qualifying.
Three minutes deep into injury time, veteran Linda Sällström made the strike Finland had hoped would come. Neatly dodging the defender, Sällström lofted the ball from the edge of the box, clean over the head of the goalkeeper. The agonisingly long shot struck home.
The disbelieving screams of the players and commentators said it all. One can only imagine the reaction had the Helsinki home crowd been in the stadium.
Post-match, coach Anna Aigneul sang her team’s praises, clearly overjoyed that their hard graft has paid off.
“They haven’t taken anything for granted, they have worked every single second of all these games.”
Signeul reflected that the last-minute goal was a perfect statement of the team’s perseverance: “We don’t give up.”
Rising through the ranks (again)
There is no professional league football for women in Finland. Of the 23 players in the current squad, only two play for Finnish clubs. The others have had to go abroad in search of paid contracts in order to make football a career. Nevertheless, Finland has a history of great success for its national teams.
Helmarit have qualified for the EUROs three times previously: in 2005, 2009, and most recently in 2013. Their first championship, also hosted in England, saw them storm into the semi-finals.
As hosts of the 2009 tournament, Finland made an impact on Europe that they haven’t quite been able to sustain in the years since.
As other countries began to increasingly invest and develop, Finland fell from 14th to 32nd in the FIFA world rankings between 2005 and 2019. Under the management of Signeul since 2017, the side have once again been going from strength to strength.
The boss’ confidence in her team has clearly rubbed off onto her players.
Oi, Suomi on!
Their EURO qualification campaign has certainly been a memorable one. Amanda Rantanen’s accidental face-goal in extra time sealed their victory over favourites Scotland. Surely Sällström’s 93rd minute worldie won’t be forgotten for a long time.
The matches have not been plain sailing, but have demonstrated the grit and self-belief of the players.
The Finns have never qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup; could Australia and New Zealand 2023 be within their grasp? Helmarit’s steady upward trajectory could hopefully take Finland to unprecedented success on the international stage.