Reaching the UEFA Women's EURO 2005 semi-finals was a sensational breakthrough by Finland and four years later they consolidated that by making the last eight as hosts – but much has changed as they begin their latest qualifying campaign on Saturday at home to Estonia.
Long-serving coach Michael Käld stepped aside at the end of 2009 to be replaced by Swedish technician Andreé Jeglertz, who had won the UEFA Women's Cup with Umeå IK. And it was not just a change on the bench.
"It is a completely different squad to the one that played in the home finals in 2009," Jeglertz said as he prepared to start 2013 qualifying Group 5 in Vantaa. "The whole central spine of the squad is practically new."
Indeed, since the 2009 campaign climaxed with a thrilling 3-2 quarter-final loss to England, the influential Anne Mäkinen and Jessica Julin have retired and Laura Österberg-Kalmari, for so long the core of Finland's attack, is absent and considering her international future. Sixteen months have passed since the 3-1 home defeat by Italy that killed Finland's FIFA Women's World Cup qualification hopes, and although they may now be considered favourites in a pool containing a Ukraine team they finished above in their EURO 2009 group, recent results have hardly been encouraging.
At the 2011 Algarve Cup in March, Finland ended up in the lowest position they could – tenth – after losing to Norway, Japan, the United States and hosts Portugal. "Spring was difficult, we did not get good results in the Algarve Cup – of course, the teams we played against were very good. We certainly saw there was still a long way to go," Jeglertz said. "
We have tried different formations and variations in playing style. In the summer and after that I think we found the key."
Indeed, the run of defeats was curtailed by a 1-0 victory over Scotland on 18 September, although three days later the Finns travelled to Edinburgh and lost 7-2 to the same opponents. "I just cannot put any weight on that match, many players were sick beforehand and afterwards practically everyone was ill," the coach said.
Once Saturday's Estonia match and next Thursday's trip to Belarus are over, Finland do not return to action until next year, with their qualifying campaign resuming with games against Slovakia on 31 March and 5 April before a crucial June fixture in Ukraine. "I think it is good we do not play more matches before the spring," Jeglertz said. "There will be more time to find our best formula.
"But there is no reason to underestimate any opponent. A few years ago it was maybe different, but today there are no easy games in women's football in Europe. We have to wary of every opponent in the group. To win the group is a tough challenge but at the same time a realistic one. Ukraine may be the toughest team on paper but any team can surprise any other. To win the group is our aim but it will not be easy."
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