European Football Championship 2021
The Finnish football wonder
The Huuhkajat in ecstasy
Finland is actually an ice hockey nation. Since 15.11.2019, things have been a little different – because of King Football. And because of Pukki. The historic victory over Liechtenstein. With this – and now hold on tight (Tusch!) – the country qualified for the European Football Championship for the very first time ever in history.
It is the Finnish “summer fairy tale” – long ridiculed as outsiders and not even among the top 100 in the FIFA rankings – Finland’s national football team was considered more of a joke than a source of otherwise well-dosed national pride. But that changed abruptly in November 2019 – to that extent, the German summer fairy tale should be renamed the Finnish autumn fairy tale. Since then, the HUUHKAJAT (The Eagle Owls) have no longer been ridiculed. Finland are now a respectable 54th in the FIFA world rankings.
“Miracles happen because God exists. And Teemu Pukki.”
The very first European Football Championship participation
After the biggest football triumph in their country’s history, the Finns were in a frenzy of joy for days.
All of Finland? No, football Finland! That is, the part that had longed for success for so long. For generations they had been feverishly awaiting this decisive victory. And every one of them hoped that it would happen in their own lifetime. Now it has finally happened with “The Round has to go into the Square”. The Finnish football fairytale came true. The Evangelical Lutheran Church tweeted that evening after the Finns’ victory: “Miracles happen because God exists. And Teemu Pukki.”
For more than 80 years, the huuhkajat (eagle owls) have striven through sweat, toil and sore muscles to play in a World or European Championship. Pukki and his teammates succeeded. Nine of the 15 goals in the qualifying round were scored by Pukki alone. The former Schalke player is making the scarves in the stands wave and the chilly Finns cheer. Or as one YLE reporter said on the historic evening of football: “The decades of misery are over!”
And they were lucky in misfortune – by the pandemic. Because the 2020 European Football Championship was postponed. This meant that the Finns could look forward to their first European Championship participation for a year longer.
Football in Finland
No, football is not as important as in Germany, Italy or Spain. Ice hockey is the national sport in Finland. 200,000 actively play in one of the 428 clubs. The Finns have been world champions three times, most recently in 2019 with the “Miracle on Ice”. The national team played entirely without the regular players from the North American NHL, which led the Finnish press to speak of the “worst squad in history”. Nevertheless, it was precisely this squad that kicked the eternal opponents Sweden, Russia and Canada out of the race.
For the Germans, who are used to success, it is perhaps difficult to comprehend what this participation in the European Championship means for the Finns. After decades of failure, envious sidelong glances at their neighbours and demoralising defeats, they are now in football heaven – no matter how the tournament turns out.
“We even forgot that we are Finns,” said one of the fans. Because they simply did what their hearts told them to do: ran onto the pitch, hugged players and coach Markku Kanerva, laughed and cried at the same time. Instead of “We are the champions” they sang from the bottom of their hearts: “Me ollaan sankareita kaikki, jos oikein silmiin katsotaan” (“We are all heroes when we look deep into each other’s eyes”). The cool, taciturn northerners were all over the place and so not at all hypothermic and in control. Later, they continued to celebrate in Helsinki’s market square: Tavataan torilla (meeting in the market square) – the Finnish motto for celebrating success.
And Havis Amanda, the naked beauty at the harbour, had to serve again. Fans climbed on the bronze sculpture, as they had done six months earlier when the team won the ice hockey world championship.
It almost seems as if they are living against their nature. As if, at the bottom of their hearts, they were fun-loving, approachable people – but an evil sorcerer had given them a potion on a jet-black night ages ago that makes them seem sober, cool and secretive, so that they no longer even know what it feels like to be themselves. Not really naturally. But as a nation, as an identity, as a collective.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Finland's president welcomes the national team
Finland’s national football team has even been received by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö shortly before the first European Championship participation in its history. The 72-year-old head of state presented the team with a Finnish key flag, a flag with great symbolic significance. Normally, only the winners of a major competition would receive this key, Niinistö said. “But it is already a victory to be part of this European Championship.”
And Areena Audio has its own channel for the European Championship: Huuhkajaradio discusses the latest news from the Finnish team and goes through the hottest topics of the European Championship. The journalists are Jussi Vainikka and Jarmo Lehtinen.
Few stars, but sisu!
One of the constants in the Finnish national team is Lukas Hradecky, Finland’s Sportsman of the Year and goalkeeper at Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Some will also know Glen Kamara, a regular player for Glasgow Rangers. And of course the “hero”: Teemu Pukki (31), who first sought his fortune as a youngster at Schalke, but then really found it in England. There, too, he is regarded as a goal-scorer. Not to forget the young hopefuls Marcus Forss and Onni Valakari, who caused a small sensation in the friendly match against France. The two, who had just made their senior team debut, scored into the corner.
Okay, you may not find any big names in the Finnish national football team, but that is probably not the decisive factor in this case. Because the Finns have something with which they can make up for all that: Sisu. And they can rely on this – perhaps 12th invisible man on the pitch. Besides, it’s always a good starting position to be considered the underdog.
INFO: You can find out how the name Huhhkajat came about in my book 111 Places to See in Helsinki.
European Football Championship Preliminary Round
The Huuhkajat European Championship adventure begins on Saturday in Copenhagen against Denmark. On the following Wednesday, the team will meet Russia in St. Petersburg. The last match of the first group will be against Belgium in St. Petersburg on 21 June. Click here for the complete schedule for the European Championship. A few days ago, they set off on the “Huuhkajat Express” from Helsinki railway station towards St. Petersburg.
12 June: Denmark – Finland
16 June: Russia – Finland
21 June: Belgium – Finland
Finland’s national team
Lukas Hradecky (1989), Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Jesse Joronen (1993), Brescia Calcio
Carljohan Eriksson (1995), Mjällby AIF
Joona Toivio (1988), BK Häcken
Paulus Arajuuri (1988), Pafos FC
Daniel O’Shaughnessy (1994), HJK Helsinki
Jukka Raitala (1988), Minnesota United FC
Niko Hämäläinen (1997), Queens Park Rangers
Nikolai Alho (1993), MTK Budapest
Jere Uronen (1994), KRC Genk
Leo Väisänen (1997), IF Elfsborg Boras
Albin Granlund (1989), Stal Mielec
Juha Pirinen (1991), AS Trencin
Glen Kamara (1995), Glasgow Rangers
Tim Sparv (1987), AE Larisa
Rasmus Schüller (1991), Djurgardens IF
Joni Kauko (1990), Esbjerg fB
Robin Lod (1993), Minnesota United FC
Robert Taylor (1994), SK Brann
Onni Valakari (1999), Pafos FC
Pyry Soiri (1994), Esbjerg fB
Fredrik Jensen (1997), FC Augsburg
Teemu Pukki (1990), Norwich City
Marcus Forss (1999), Brentford FC
Joel Pohjanpalo (1994), Union Berlin
Jasse Tuominen (1995), BK Häcken
Markku Kanerva (1964)
Football and other sports
There are 9,000 sports clubs in Finland and, according to surveys, 90 per cent of the population are active in sports once a week. Among the most popular sports among children and young people are football and ice hockey. And somehow it seems to be in the Finnish DNA to compete against each other. In countless marathons, obstacle courses and cross-country skiing races, thousands of Finns go all out to the applause of their fellow countrymen.