San Marino 0 Finland 1: Not exactly a confidence-builder for the Sweden game
Forssell's goal and the referee save Finnish blushes
Only one party came through Finland's trip to Serravalle and San Marino last Friday with any great credit: the travelling fans.
The roughly 300 supporters of the national side who made the trip south generated enough sound and enthusiasm to make this seem more like a home game in the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, and they would have deserved more - much more - than the streaky spectacle of Finland's winning 1-0 against the lowest-ranked of all FIFA nations thanks to a first-half goal from Mikael Forssell.
San Marino played to their adopted plan of concerted defence and occasional counter-attacks, Finland appeared to play to no plan at all and at a snail's pace, and the inexperienced Latvian referee Andrejs Sipallo was a model of inconsistency and hardly put in a strong recommendation for future international appointments.
It was ninety minutes of tedium and frustration, and despite the three points gained, Finland's new head coach Mixu Paatelainen will not have been at all happy at what he saw.
This fixture followed on from the home game in November against the same opponents, in which Finland struggled for 45 minutes and then ran riot in the second half, scoring seven goals to wind up 8-0 winners.
Nobody really expected that the visitors would run up a cricket score in the opening minutes of this game, but the fact that it again took forty minutes to break down the hosts' defence indicated that something was not right in the Finnish build-up.
Forssell's goal was smartly taken after he was found by Mika Väyrynen, but the second half saw none of the improvement of last time as the San Marino players tired from their exertions, and in fact were it not for the quite astonishing generosity of Mr. Sipallo, San Marino should have had an opportunity to score a rare competitive goal - from the penalty spot.
Lukas Hradecky in the Finnish goal appeared to all eyes to have pulled down Fabio Bollini after a monumental cock-up at the back, but to everyone's amazement no whistle was heard, and no red card produced.
The absence of Roman Eremenko from the Finnish midfield owing to a one-match suspension might be blamed for the complete lack of ideas going forward, but Eremenko will have to be a veritable rainmaker in the mould of Xavi Hernández or Andrés Iniesta if he is to improve things enough on his return to trouble the next opponents, Sweden.
Sweden are palpably NOT at the bottom of the FIFA ladder, and on Friday evening they brushed aside Moldova 4-1 away.
Lest anyone has forgotten, Moldova were the team that put the first nail in the cofin of Paatelainen's predecessor Stuart Baxter, by embarrassing Finland 2-0 in Chisinau in their opening match in the UEFA European Championship 2012 qualifiers last September.
Unless we see a quantum-leap improvement on the basis of "a bad dress rehearsal makes for a good first night", those Finnish fans who make the much shorter trip to Stockholm for tomorrow's match will come away sadly disappointed.
Finland remain firmly entrenched in fifth place in the group led by The Netherlands (18 points from six matches) and Sweden (12 points from five); Hungary (nine from six) and Moldova (six from six) are also ahead of them. Moldova hold onto fourth place despite a worse goal difference, on the strength of that 2-0 win.
It is fortunate that the Finnish FA have put their cards firmly on the table and given Paatelainen a long-term project, as there is little chance on the current form of the side that anything very impressive will emerge soon.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Paatelainen picks surprise HJK name for upcoming internationals, but no place so far for veteran Jari Litmanen (24.5.2011)
Finland 8 San Marino 0: Goals galore and a Litmanen cameo after an unconvincing start (18.11.2010)
Finland National Football Team (Wikipedia)