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Three straight defeats at the start of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying were a major blow to a Finland team now targeting their first Group E point against back markers San Marino.
Wednesday's Helsinki fixture, played under stand-in coach Olli Huttunen, may herald a fresh cycle for Finnish football, however. With the national side increasingly compelled to seek out younger talents, the squad forged under the stewardship of Roy Hodgson is reaching the end of its natural life span.
An injury to Bayer 04 Leverkusen defender Sami Hyypiä means that only three members of Huttunen's 20-man selection were born in the 1970s – Derby County FC striker Shefki Kuqi, SK Rapid Wien midfielder Markus Heikkinen and FC Lahti forward Jari Litmanen, who at 39 has 21 years' senior national-team experience.
Hyypiä himself has suggested that, at 37, he may be ready to quit international football, with goalkeeper Jussi Jääskeläinen having effectively made that decision a year ago. The fact TPS Turku striker Jonatan Johansson, 35, and NAC Breda winger Joonas Kolkka, 36, are not in Huttunen's squad may also be significant.
It has even been mooted that Litmanen's imminent 137th cap may be his last, although full-back Jukka Raitala said: "I hope it is not the only reason people come to the match. I want the fans to be there whenever the national team plays."
If the San Marino game does indeed mark the end of the Litmanen era, the likes of Raitala will try to offer Finland hope for the future. The 22-year-old from SC Paderborn 07 has nothing but respect for Finland's warhorses, yet youth eventually must have its day.
"Of course everyone wants to play, I do too," Raitala said of his ambitions of a third cap. "What is best for the team is still the most important thing. What counts is winning and getting our first points of the campaign."
Twentysomethings like forward Mikael Forssell, defender Petri Pasanen, midfielder Mika Väyrynen and striker Alexei Eremenko Jr could represent the leaders of a new Finland team, but even younger talents are eager to thrive. Six members of the squad have fewer than ten caps, including all three goalkeepers.
At 22, Djurgårdens IF centre-back Joona Toivio aims to win his first cap against San Marino, saying: "Of course I hope I get a few minutes, but I don't really expect it. The main thing is that this is a game we have to win." Pride certainly must be restored, but planning for the long term is increasingly Finland's priority.
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