Anne Mäkinen made her debut for Finland aged 15 in 1991 yet it was not until 14 years later that she played at a major tournament. And she will never forget the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ opener against England in front of 29,092 fans in Manchester – despite the 3-2 defeat.
"That was awesome," Mäkinen told uefa.com. "I had never played in front of such a crowd, none of us had. You couldn't hear anything on the pitch, and that was new. The fans, even the English fans, were cheering for both teams, at least it felt like it. It was a good game. England were 2-0 up and then we equalised, then the third goal at the end for England, you can't get much better than that – for England, not for us of course."
Mäkinen had taken part in seven unsuccessful qualifying campaigns prior to 2005. But what happened next did not surprise the midfielder, who had long experience in the United States and was to join Swedish giants Umeå IK after qualifying. "There had been a process where players had been moving to clubs outside Finland and improving that way, getting international experience," Mäkinen said. "Also, we had a group that had been playing together for a very long time so it was just a matter of time."
Finland finished third in their qualifying group and progressed to a play-off against a more established force, Russia. But Finland claimed a 1-0 home win and four days later travelled to Moscow with Mäkinen opening the scoring in a 3-1 victory. "When we got to the last game against Russia I knew we had it because they did not show anything when they played against us at home," she said. "We had such strong spirit and drive. I had been playing with the national team since I was 15 and we had never qualified for anything. It was a very big surprise and a positive thing for women's football in Finland."
Once in England, Finland were outsiders, especially after the opening loss. But they fought out a 0-0 draw against Sweden and a tremendous 2-1 defeat of Denmark took them through. "That showed how strong a team we had mentally. Off the pitch we were very tight, doing everything together and that can be a deciding element," Mäkinen explained. "We had confidence and when we came to play Denmark, we had to win and nobody doubted we could do it, even if we had seldom beaten them."
A 4-1 loss to eventual winners Germany ended Finland's campaign, but Mäkinen still takes positives from that. "It was a different kind of feeling on the bus, very nervous," she said. "We had never had that experience, playing in the semi-final, and it was Germany, perhaps the best team in the world. We made simple mistakes and got punished, and we never had a chance. We scored one goal, that was a positive, but the whole experience was more important than winning that game. Just being there; and if you get into that sort of position again you know what it takes."
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