Testimonial matches may not exactly be rare in football, but it is not often that a game is held to celebrate an entire national team. That, however, is what fans in Helsinki were treated to on Saturday as 17 players from Finland's 'golden generation' made their last appearance for supporters in an exhibition match against a World XI.
With Finland icons such as Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä taking to the Olympic Stadium pitch for the final time, the occasion was not short of star names. Litmanen, who scored 32 goals in 137 outings for the national team, said: "This was a great idea, expectations were high and everyone was pleased to take part in this unique event. It was very nice and the match itself was great too."
Current Finland coach Mixu Paatelainen also played alongside the likes of Antti Niemi, Shefki Kuqi and Teemu Tainio. The World XI featured a number of familiar faces, including Ronald de Boer, Boudewijn Zenden and former Scotland goalkeeper Andy Goram, who pulled off a series of excellent saves but was unable to prevent a 5-2 victory for the home side.
"I had a talk with Ronald de Boer and he remembered playing here for the first time in 1990 or 1991 and his brother Frank scored his first international goal back then," Litmanen said. "I have been around for a while and there have been great wins, bitter defeats and also good draws like that one."
Hyypiä added: "It was nice to play after a while and of course nice to see old friends again. There are no bittersweet feelings at all, it was great fun with good pals and the atmosphere was a very positive one. The result is not important in these matches and everyone was giving a bit of a show. Andy Goram must be especially recognised as a great showman."
Before the main event, there was also a match between the Football Association of Finland (SPL-FBF) 'Gladiators' team – a side composed of former great players and coaches – and a lineup of league legends, who set the tone for an afternoon rich in Finnish football history.
Emotions were never far from the surface as the supporters in Helsinki showed their appreciation for a generation of talents who amassed around 1,200 caps between them, even if they ultimately failed to reach a major international tournament. The players were likewise quick to acknowledge the fans on a day in the capital that few are likely to forget.
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