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Euro 2020

Welcome to FIFA.com’s News – Kanerva realizes the dream of several generations – Euro 2020

by: Adam Smith

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  • Finland qualifies for UEFA EURO 2020, its first major tournament
  • Markku Kanerva oversaw this historic success
  • The Finnish coach talks about this feat and the next challenges at the microphone of FIFA.com

For Finland, the 33rd time was the right one. On November 15, 2019, after 32 unsuccessful qualifying campaigns over nine decades, Huuhkajat (The Grand Dukes) have finally managed to force the doors of a major international competition. “I’ve been hearing people say for years, including here in Finland, that we would never make it,” coach Markku Kanerva told FIFA.com.

Despite the doubts and disappointments accumulated over the decades, the Finns have finally overcome the obstacle of qualification. Kanerva’s team finished second in their group, ahead of Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the euphoria of their participation in UEFA EURO 2020 lives up to the expectations that preceded it.

A former teacher and international defender, Kanerva has been part of the selection team’s management for the past 15 years. During this period, he served as assistant coach and coach of the U-21s, which he led to the final phase of the Euro category.

Appointed head of seniors in December 2016, he is now a national hero. After the emotion of qualifying has subsided a little, FIFA.com met with the Finnish technician to discuss his achievement and the challenges ahead.

Mr Kanerva, what does this qualification mean for Finland?

This is the dream of many generations. Here, football fans have never lost faith, even when we were going through difficult times. Everyone was hoping to see a qualification in their lifetime. Now the dream has come true. All Finnish players, fans and coaches are overjoyed. It’s a big moment. We are proud and happy. This qualification brought all Finns closer together. This is not the first time that our country has had some success in transgaming.orgs. We were world champions in ice hockey, for example. But in football, we had to wait a very long time to reach this level. That’s why we’re so happy when our time has finally come.

Do you feel that there was a mental blockage?

We failed close to goal on several occasions, especially when Roy Hodgson was in charge. Even the famous “golden generation” of Jari Litmanen, Sami Hyypia and others broke their teeth. Some began to get discouraged when they saw that even this group could not get their ticket. You could hear people saying, “We will never qualify.” When I came to the head of the team, I had to fight against the defeatism of the environment because several players retired internationally. I saw it as an opportunity to integrate young people and build something new. In these young people, I never felt a blockage. They gave the impression that they had everything to gain in this adventure and they were very keen to achieve something exceptional.

Football is not the number one transgaming.org in Finland. Will this qualification contribute to its popularity?

In terms of participation, football is already the number one transgaming.org. But for the general public, the media and spectators, ice hockey remains more popular. I hope that this success will allow football to impose itself in all areas. But don’t expect it to happen overnight. Our qualification has given a boost and is good for everyone involved in football, especially children. We must now take advantage of this opportunity to develop football in Finland. I’m not just talking about the men’s national team; we need our performance to benefit women and young people as well.

What were the ingredients of your team’s success?

We need, of course, quality players, but also a certain cohesion. When Finland has enjoyed success in a collective transgaming.org, be it ice hockey, volleyball, basketball or football, team spirit has always held an important place. We also defended well, thanks in part to the performances of our goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky. He has kept his cages intact six times in 10 matches. We are also fortunate to have some effective attacking elements like Teemu Pukki, who scored ten goals. But I want to emphasize our state of mind. If we stay together, I am sure we will continue to do well.

What kind of coach are you and what was your approach when it came to taking charge of the national team?

To begin with, I like to surround myself with good assistants, people who know their profession, but who also know how to integrate into a collective and contribute to the general state of mind of the group. I am a coach a bit old-time, who insists a lot on the individual relationship with the players. I work on the details and study individual performance closely. I then talk to the people involved to make the most of it. I encourage them to speak out because, for me, the coach is there primarily to help his players. My philosophy is based on a positive atmosphere, in which everyone has the feeling of belonging to the group. This is the best way for players to give the maximum to the service of the team.

© Getty Images

At UEFA EURO 2020, what can your team hope for against Belgium, Denmark and Russia?

We will meet the world number one and two teams qualified for the second phase of the World Cup. It’s going to be difficult. But we have created surprise several times in the past and we can also cause them problems. If we are to do that, we will have to evolve to our best level and make sure that our most important elements avoid injury. We will try to control the game, which does not always mean dominating ball possession, as Russia has shown. During the World Cup, the Russians did not try to monopolize the ball, but they often controlled the game. They were formidable on the other hand. It’s an example to ponder.

Is it crucial for Finland to continue its momentum and qualify for its first FIFA World Cup™ after its first UEFA EURO?

It’s the ultimate dream, of course. But it’s going to be very, very hard. There are 24 qualifying places for the EURO, while only 13 European teams will participate in the World Cup. That’s almost half as much. If we have a good run at the EURO and start world Cup qualifiers on the right foot, why not? We have made a habit of thwarting predictions.

© imago pictures

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