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APN this week: Why are Finland suddenly good at football?

This week Teemu Pukki promised Finland are on their way to the European Championships.

Audio: Yle News

Since the first World Cup in 1930 there have been 36 World Cups or European Championships. Finland’s male footballers have not played at a single one.

That could all be about to change next summer, so long as they beat Liechtenstein on Friday night.

The Alpine principality are relative minnows in footballing terms, some 126 places below Finland in the world rankings, but Finland are used to disappointments.

In 1997 an unbelievable last minute Teuvo 'Tepi' Moilanen own goal against Hungary scuppered their bid for France 1998. In 2007 they went out with a whimper, drawing 0-0 in Portugal when only a win would do.

Fans of the Eagle Owls (or Huuhkajat in Finnish) are used to disappointment.

Even so, this week at the national team’s press first press conference of the international break, Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki is confident they will come through.

"I can promise that we’ll take care of business," said Pukki, who has scored seven goals in eight games during these qualifiers. "For once. For once I dare to promise."

Huuhkajat belief

It’s a good thing too as Finland is finally starting to get very excited about its national team.

In honour of the occasion Viasat will have a 12-hour buildup to the big match. Pukki’s club Norwich City, who are currently rock-bottom of the Premier League, have tried to capitalise on their star forward’s God-like status in Finland, opening a popup shop in a Helsinki mall and organising a watch party for those not lucky enough to get one of the 10,000 tickets to Töölö football stadium.

They've even declared on social media that 'Norwich believes in the Huuhkajat' and sent several staff members over to Finland to build their fanbase and corporate relationships.

There are big-screen events in Helsinki, Tampere, Turku and other municipalities across the country. Some of them are outdoor, which represents a big show of faith from organisers given the typical November weather forecast for Friday evening.

80 years of hurt

So what happened? How did this Finland team come to the brink of ending 80 years of hurt?

"That’s the fun point about this team," says Ilta-Sanomat football journalist Janne Oivio. "Essentially this is a worse version of the same team that did really badly from 2014-2017, without four of its biggest stars: Niklas Moisander, Perparim Hetemaj, Alex Ring and Roman Eremenko. And now they were amazing and they have qualified for the euros."

Coach Markku "Rive" Kanerva is the man credited with the transformation, but Oivio says it’s been more evolution than 'Rivelution'.

"There’s no big influx of young stars, no tactical revolution, it’s just all come together," says Oivio. "Kanerva deserves huge credit for coaxing the right mentality out of the players after years of losing."

"It’s amazing. I don’t think international football is that hard. You don’t have that much time to prepare, you just instill the tactics and prepare the team. The big thing was when they realised 'hey, we’re not that bad'."

On Friday they will probably reap the rewards of that realisation. Pukki promised, after all.

We’ll be discussing the men’s national team with Janne Oivio in this week’s All Points North podcast. If you have a question or comment, let us know via WhatsApp on +358 44 421 0909, on our Facebook or Twitter accounts, or to yle.news@yle.fi.

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