Finland face a daunting challenge against the world’s highest-ranked team Belgium to qualify for the Euro 2020 knockouts in their maiden tournament, but coach Markku Kanerva is taking inspiration from his side’s ability to surprise the top nations.
“A draw will probably be enough to qualify,” he said of the final Group B game in St. Petersburg on Monday for Finland, who sit on three points after an opening win against Denmark.
“When I started as head coach in the Finnish team one of the first matches was a friendly against Belgium and we managed a draw,” he added at a news conference on Sunday, recalling a 1-1 result in 2016.
Kanerva called Monday’s game – taking place at the same time as Denmark meet Russia in Copenhagen – the biggest ever for Finland, who sit 53 places below Belgium in the FIFA rankings.
“We still have a chance to win the group – it’s completely in our own hands,” he said.
“The most important part of our task is to focus on the part we can actually control, and that is our own game. We have our colleagues who will keep us informed about the situation between Russia and Denmark, but hopefully we won’t need that information.”
After beating the Danes, the Finns then lost to Russia but they believe other past heroics such as a 2-0 friendly win over France in November will help them against Belgium.
“It is great that we have a chance to face the two best teams in the world. Although it was a friendly, the France game gave us an idea of how we can do well against the best teams,” Kanerva said.
“Now we are facing the number one in the FIFA world ranking, the experience with France gives us the idea that we can beat big teams.”
The Finns are third in Group B behind Belgium and Russia. The top two go through to the knockout stage, along with the four best third-place finishers from the six groups.
Kevin De Bruyne is still struggling with a dead feeling on the left hand side of his face after a double fracture but said it would not hinder his performance at the European Championship.
Belgium’s midfield talisman broke an eye socket and his nose in last month’s Champions League final and made a belated entry into Euro 2020 on Thursday, quickly reminding the world of his prodigious talent as he engineered a comeback for his country as they beat Denmark 2-1 in Copenhagen.
The 29-year-old said he had little sensation on the side of his face and had been told by doctors, who performed minor surgery on his eye socket, it would only disappear after a few months. It is just a bit irritating,” he told a news conference on Saturday.
But I am used to it now. I am also less scared in the heading duels. When I was on the field, I did not think about it anymore.”
De Bruyne suffered the injury in a clash with Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger as his Manchester City finished on the losing side in Porto.
“I was not upset with Rudiger. It was one of those things that happens on the field. He tried to block me, not to break my nose, and so it was unlucky for me.”
De Bruyne left the field in tears, and Belgian fans feared it might impact his performance at the Euros.
But the disappointment did not last long, he said.
“The fact that we had such an incredible season with City softened the blow. We tried everything to win, and it did not work out. That’s just part of the way it works in sport.”
De Bruyne will start a game for the first time since the May 29 final when Belgium meet Finland in their last Group B match in St Petersburg on Monday.
“I knew I would not make the first match against Russia, but might get some time off the bench against Denmark. I think the timing with 45 minutes (against Denmark) and then starting against Finland is ideal to get some rhythm back.
“I felt good being back, the first half hour was good. After that it was more difficult, but that was normal because I was playing my first minutes in three weeks. I hope to be able to hold out against Finland for a longer period of time,” he added.