By Kevin Ashby in Preston
As an integral member of the Finland defensive line, Evelina Sarapää will be doing her utmost to prevent the German "machine" steamrollering the Scandinavian side in tonight's UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ semi-final in Preston.
Strength and character
Like her team-mates, the 28-year-old recovered from a shaky start against England to grow in strength and character in the subsequent scoreless draw against Sweden and 2-1 defeat of Denmark; those four points sealing second spot in Group A and a showdown with a German team Sarapää rates highly. "Their team is like a machine - everything works so well and they know exactly what to do in all situations," she told uefa.com.
Sarapää has also had to adapt to different situations, having juggled football with studies in architecture since 1996. Her playing career has reaped almost a half-century of caps, three Finnish championships and as many Finnish Cups, yet you sense the ending of her student days next year will represent as much of an achievement for the likeable defender as Finland lifting the European crown at Ewood Park, Blackburn on Sunday.
The HJK Helsinki player's skills on a drawing board may not be of much use in England, but Sarapää's raids down the flank from right-back certainly are. "I play as an attacker for my club and I think that helps when I push forward for the national team," she said. "I feel as though I could have played better here, especially being a bit calmer in the early stages of games."
'Chance to strike'
Sarapää will have to be at her best at Deepdale as she lines up against Conny Pohlers, arguably the most influential player in German women's football last season. The defender admits to being "a little bit frightened" at playing Germany but feels Finland possess the belief to cause another shock: "I'm sure they don't expect us to be that good so maybe that's our chance to strike. We knew we were good enough and just had to get it right."
Sarapää has no doubt benefited from playing alongside Sanna Valkonen, Finland's captain and inspiration. The Umeå IK central defender excelled in the draw with Sweden, and subsequently held the back line together as Denmark went in search of an equaliser which would have seen them and not Finland through. Valkonen was in typically confident mood ahead of the semi-final, saying: "It's a great opportunity for us to do something big."
The Valkonen-Birgit Prinz head-to-head could decide the game and the Finn is eager to prove herself against Germany's 85-goal record scorer. "I know how good she is, and I'm mentally preparing myself for a tough match," Valkonen said. "I have to be concentrated for the whole match - I can't give her a second to think about scoring because in that time she will do it."
If Sarapää and Valkonen do get the upper hand against Pohlers and Prinz, Finland's adventure in England could well extend to the weekend and put the 'welcome home' party in Helsinki back on hold again.
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