Yugoslavia overcame a tough Finland side 2-0 in their EURO 2004™ Group 9 qualifying game in Belgrade, thanks to second-half goals from Darko Kovacevic and Sinisa Mihajlovic
However, the first half had been all Finland's, as the visitors exerted their aerial superiority over the hosts. Finland had six headed chances, and the Yugoslavian defence looked to be struggling.
Jari Litmanen and Joonas Kolkka bombarded the box with crosses, and the tall Liverpool defender Sami Hyypiä looked threatening. However, Finland’s tactics were foiled by the excellent form of goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric, who made save after save.
Having shown little in the first period, Yugoslavia came out for the second half with real intent and opened the scoring on 55 minutes. Mihajlovic dribbled past two of his opponents in midfield before picking out Kovacevic, who made no mistake from seven metres out.
Reverting to a 4-3-3 formation, Yugoslavia had several further chances to score. Predrag Mijatovic, who scored in his side's 1-1 draw with Italy on Saturday, had two great opportunities on 64 and 68 minutes, but he spurned them both.
It was not until the 85th minute that Yugoslavia scored the crucial second. Mihajlovic was lining up a free-kick, when Juha Reini was adjudged to have elbowed Mladen Krstajic in the box. Reini was sent off and a penalty was awarded. Mihajlovic stepped up and placed the ball accurately into the back of the net to make the final score 2-0.
"I am satisfied with the result, but only with the performance in the second half," said Yugoslavia coach Dejan Savicevic. "My players were obviously not able to adopt a defensive formation, leaving a lot of space for the Finns in the air. At half-time I brought in Mladen Krstajic and that stopped the visitors. We are still not favourites in the group, we have still a lot of games to play, but we have achieved a very important victory."
Finland coach Antii Muurinen was more downbeat. "I respect the Yugoslavian team for their technical abilities and I was afraid that my players would not be able to score," he said. "Everything I was afraid of happened. We missed chances and they punished us with well-organised attacks. When you miss six consecutive chances on goal, you cannot expect to win.”