Finland win World Cup warm-up against Israel
First victory for coach Stuart Baxter in dress rehearsal for Germany game
Two headed goals from Jonatan Johansson late in each half were enough to secure a confidence-boosting win against Israel in Tampere on Wednesday, as Finland’s national football team had their final warm-up game before the 2010 World Cup qualifiers get going in September.
The 2-0 victory was the first for the team under new head coach Stuart Baxter, and was more than his predecessor Roy Hodgson could manage in the run-up to the Euro 2008 qualifiers.
Johansson got his first after 42 minutes, when he met a cross from Veli Lampi at the far post. The winner came two minutes from time after a Jari Litmanen free-kick.
Finland’s first-half display was among the most encouraging for some years. The side showed nice touches going forward, with Roman Eremenko, Joonas Kolkka, and Johansson all linking up well.
Admittedly they were helped by the Israelis’ willingness to sit back and take pressure, but even after the visitors upped their game in the second half, the only chances they created were snuffed out by goalie Niko Mäenpää, who replaced Jussi Jääskeläinen after the interval, and by the timely intervention of central defender Toni Kuivasto (on for Sami Hyypiä), who cleared a certain goal-bound shot off the line.
Two players above all caught the eye. Veli Lampi’s cross from the right set up the first goal, and he showed himself to be a useful alternative in the left-back spot.
Eremenko, who has been making his entry into the regular squad for some time, showed a very encouraging composure in midfield, and his playmaking abilities were such that some of the worries about replacing an ageing Jari Litmanen have been lifted.
Litmanen only came on for a cameo appearance in the last 20 minutes.
Any confidence taken from this game will be sorely needed in a few weeks’ time, when Finland entertain a resurgent Germany in the Olympic Stadium on September 10th. The Germans were runners-up to Spain in the recent Euro 2008 competition in Austria and Switzerland.
Finland’s difficult group also includes Russia, who were another side to perform well at Euro 2008, knocking out Holland in the quarter-finals before falling to Spain in the semis.
Finland National Football Team (Wikipedia)