Finland scored for the first time in three successive home games to put their EURO 2004™ qualifying campaign back on track with a 3-0 win against Azerbaijan in Group 9 tonight.
Back in contention
Having been beaten at home 2-0 by Wales in their opening qualifying game, Antti Muurinen's side returned to form in Helsinki to put themselves back into contention for a place at the finals of the competition in Portugal.
Nurmela in form
Mika Nurmela was the hero at the Olympic stadium, being credited with Finland's first goal before setting up two team-mates from corner kicks to complete the victory. Nurmela certainly rode his luck as Finland took the lead after 13 minutes. Racing into the penalty area to chase a fine ball from Jari Litmanen, the midfield player was felled in the act of striking.
However, as he toppled, he managed to nudge the ball past Azerbaijan goalkeeper Jahanjir Hasanzade and defender Emin Agayev completed the job as his momentum forced him to prod the ball into his own net.
Finland's physical presence proved to be telling in the second half as first Liverpool FC's Sami Hyypiä and then former FK Viking defender Hannu Tihinen both got on the end of Nurmela corners to complete the scoring for the home side.
However, while he will have been delighted with the score, Muurinen will remain concerned at his strikers' performances in Helsinki as they once more failed to provide the finishing touches which Finland's dominance deserved.
'Happy with the result'
Muurinen maintained that the result was what counted, saying: "I am happy with the result and the game itself. I am very satisfied with the performance of my central defenders Sami Hyypiä and Hannu Tihinen." With the defeat against Wales and an earlier 3-0 loss to the Republic of Ireland still preying on his mind, he added: "This was a very good boost of confidence for us after we lost the two last matches."
Azerbaijan's assistant coach Askez Abdulayev paid tribute to Muurinen's side but could not hide his disappointment at the way his side had performed. "I want to congratulate Finland for their very good performance," he said. "We did not play so badly but not good enough. We will have to restructure our defence after tonight's performance."