Finland kept alive their UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying hopes with a resounding 3-0 victory over ten-man Serbia and Montenegro in Helsinki on Saturday.
Finland go third
Sami Hyypiä, Joonas Kolkka and Mikael Forssell scored the goals that took the Finns above the visitors and into third place in Group 9, just a point behind Italy, whom they face in Helsinki on Wednesday.
'A good start'
A must-win game for both sides, Finland were inventive throughout and deservedly went ahead 19 minutes in through a goal from Liverpool FC defender Hyypiä. Coach Anti Muurinen said: "We got a good start and that was very important."
Mihajlovic sent off
Serbia and Montenegro, whose qualification hopes took a severe dent here, were in serious trouble from the moment captain Sinisa Mihajlovic was dismissed for violent conduct after shoving Forssell. That came on 26 minutes and, according to coach Dejan Savicevic, was a pivotal incident.
The other key moment came when Kolkka doubled the hosts' lead in first-half injury time. Savicevic said: "The red card in the first half and Finland scoring the second goal just before the break were the crucial moments of the match. I think Mihajlovic's sending-off was a harsh decision. If we had played with a full team, the result might have been different.
"I'm disappointed with our performance," he added. "I don't want to take any credit away from Finland, though. They played a very good match." A fantastic solo effort by Forssell in the 57th minute sealed the points for Finland.
The young striker turned defender Nemanja Vidic inside out before firing the ball past goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric. "This was without doubt the best game of my career as head coach," said Muurinen. "Every player really gave everything and we got a great result."
Finland now have six points from five matches, one ahead of Serbia and Montenegro albeit having played one game more. Another victory at home to Italy on Wednesday would give Muurinen's men real hope of progressing to their first UEFA European Championship finals.
"It will be a difficult match next Wednesday," said the Finland coach. "We got a lot of confidence from this victory, though, and are ready to challenge Italy." As for Serbia and Montenegro, they must now lift themselves for Wednesday's visit to Azerbaijan.