Finland fans eye knockout stages after ‘unreal’ Denmark experience
June 16 2021 12:07 AM
Finland’s players train at the Spartak Stadium in Saint Petersburg. (AFP)
Finland’s players train at the Spartak Stadium in Saint Petersburg. (AFP)

Reuters/ St Petersburg

Finland fans are hoping to secure their place in the Euro 2020 knockout stages as they prepare to face Russia in St Petersburg today following an emotional start to the tournament. Finland’s 1-0 victory over Denmark on Saturday in their first game at the finals of a major tournament was overshadowed by the collapse of Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen during the match due to a heart attack.
“It was a day full of emotions,” Marko Karvinen, chairman on the Finland national team’s fan club, said. “We were in high spirits in the morning and I even shed a few tears of happiness as we marched to the stadium. But with the situation with Eriksen, those tears turned to ones of sadness.”
Karvinen, who has attended some 50 away games since the 2009 European Under-21 Championships in Sweden, said it was an “unreal” situation that tempered some of the joy from the win. “There is still a feeling of disbelief, but little by little you have to start looking ahead and think about tomorrow’s match,” he said.
Some 1,000 Finns are travelling to Russia for the group stage, with around 10 buses arranged by the fan club departing today alone.
However, the worsening Covid-19 situation in St Petersburg, where restrictions to contain the pandemic were tightened on Monday, has caused many to reconsider their travel plans.  Coronavirus testing at the border and other new curbs could cause concerns, but Karvinen predicts that once fans have crossed the border, excitement for the match should kick in.
Meanwhile, Russia deserved the criticism they got for their lacklustre performance against Belgium in their Euro 2020 opener, manager Stanislav Cherchesov said, but added the squad was preparing well for their next match against Finland.
Russia lost 3-0 to Belgium on Saturday on home turf in St Petersburg, prompting criticism from fans and pundits. The match highlighted the vast skill and talent gap between Belgium, the world’s top-ranked side, and Cherchesov’s team.
Russia’s backline crumbled under pressure from the fearsome Belgian attack, raising questions about the team’s prospects of making it to the knockout stage from Group B, which also includes Finland and Denmark, for the first time since 2008.
“The criticism was deserved,” Cherchesov told reporters a day before Russia face Finland in St Petersburg. “We have recovered from the first match. Now we have an absolutely different kind of preparation.”
Finland, making their first appearance at the finals of a major tournament, won 1-0 in their first game against Denmark, a match that was overshadowed by the collapse on the pitch of Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen. “Finland are not an easy opponent and they have already demonstrated this (against Denmark),” Cherchesov said. The Finns kept six clean sheets in qualifying and Russia defender Georgy Dzhikiya highlighted their organisation as a key strength. “They are a disciplined team,” Dzhikiya said. “They are organised and play in a compact way.”
Cherchesov said Yuri Zhirkov had injured his thigh in the match against Belgium and it was later confirmed that the defender, who turns 38 in August, would miss the rest of the tournament. “Given the severity of the injury, the coaching staff has decided to release the player (Zhirkov) from the team,” a statement from the Russian team said on Twitter.

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