Fans flooded the field and gathered to celebrate in city centres across Finland on Friday, when the men’s national team qualified for a major international tournament for the first time in their history.
Goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky put the success down to togetherness among the squad. Two years ago he had told the media he did not want to celebrate a draw with Greece, and that Finns are often satisfied with too little from their national team.
Now he has something worth getting excited about.
“I’ve said many times that this team behaves like a group of mates who happen to play for Finland,” said the Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper. “That has always been our strength. What has happened in the past, that has only strengthened us.”
“It’s been a long journey,” said Hradecky. “It was great when the fans invaded the pitch. To see their expressions and see their emotions, I got emotional.”
Around 5,000 fans watched the match on screens outside the new Helsinki Central library Oodi, and many then went down to the market square by the harbour to continue the celebrations.
They have never experienced success like this before, and Hradecky thinks there’s a reason this is happening now.
“I believe that good karma follows you in life, and this team has deserved it,” said Hradecky. “But now we’ll celebrate and take in what we have achieved. This is a big achievement. The whole country, the whole football community has deserved this. We’re going to fully enjoy it.”
Hradecky, who is known for taking a beer or two from the hardcore Finnish fans when celebrating victories, was dimly aware of Finland’s last match to be played against Greece in Athens on Monday.
“Yes, we’ve still got a game, but we can even take care of that drunk!”
Draw this month
Finland’s Prime Minister Antti Rinne congratulated the team on Twitter, saying that Finland is ‘finally at a men’s major tournament’.
Finland’s women’s team have qualified three times, reaching the semi-finals in 2005.
Their male counterparts will find out on 30 November exactly where they are going next summer, when Uefa draws the groups.
The possible host cities are London, Glasgow, Baku, Bilbao, Paris, Munich, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Saint Petersburg, Rome, Bucharest, Dublin and Budapest.