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Finland joy unconfined but they are not done yet

Published: Monday 26 August 2013, 15.08CET
The joy was mixed with wonderment as Finland's players considered their feat of reaching the semis, but England be warned – Marianne Miettinen's side are quickly gaining belief.
by John Atkin
from Swansea
Finland joy unconfined but they are not done yet
Juliette Kemppi (left) and Katarina Naumanen on the beach near their Swansea base ©Sportsfile
Published: Monday 26 August 2013, 15.08CET

Finland joy unconfined but they are not done yet

The joy was mixed with wonderment as Finland's players considered their feat of reaching the semis, but England be warned – Marianne Miettinen's side are quickly gaining belief.

The giggling is infectious. In a cramped medical area by the Finnish dressing room, each question posed to stand-in captain Katarina Naumanen and goalscorer Juliette Kemppi brings a fresh realisation of what their side have achieved.

Marianne Miettinen's team have drawn 1-1 with Germany, they are through to the last four of the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship and their place in next year's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Canada is secure. "Canada," they repeat over and over, rolling it around their mouths like a prize morsel. Then more mirth.

Of the two Naumanen is more composed, as befits a player who responded so well after seamlessly slipping her hand through the captain's armband left vacant by Emilia Iskanius's suspension. "It was wonderful," she says of the responsibility. "I love being a team leader and it's an honour to be captain. Obviously, I have to focus on my own game but I also have a responsibility to the team as a whole – I relish it."

The 18-year-old defender led throughout, setting the tone by taking her team-mates through their pre-match preparations and not relenting until the last of her countless second-half blocks, as Germany ramped up the pressure. "I'm not sure it was the captaincy that helped me play so well in the second half; it was more the realisation we had a chance of reaching the semi-finals," she says. "We didn't know what was happening in the other game. Our coach told us at the break Norway were leading but we didn't know it was 5-0 [against Sweden]."

Naumanen admits her side were nervous in the opening stages, when a dominant Germany scored through Johanna Tietge. Yet Finland grew in stature, as the Pallokissat centre-back puts it: "We were braver in the second half, more willing to keep hold of the ball and more willing to get forward, not just waiting for Germany." They gained rapid reward, as moments after being denied by the woodwork, Kemppi's assured finish made it 1-1 after 48 minutes of the Group B fixture in Carmarthen.

"I hit the crossbar and it was like, 'oh my God,'" recalls the No9 from Åland United, putting her head in her hands as if reliving the moment there and then, in that tiny medical cell. "But when you go close like that it makes you think, 'hold on, I can do this.' The goal was amazing. First I scored against Sweden and that was pretty amazing; but this, against Germany, was extra special. Germany are such a big name, a big country with such good players."

Cue yet more laughter, but so too the sense that this team, ending Finland's eight-year hiatus from the final tournament, are realising their potential. "I'm not really surprised to be in the semi-finals," Naumanen stresses. "I knew coming into the tournament that our team is so strong they could do that against Germany. But, of course, it's our first time [in a finals] so we're never sure."

The Germany draw brought confirmation and you suspect Finland will return to Carmarthen to face England on Wednesday hungrier – and gigglier – than ever.

Last updated: 05/09/13 21.11CET

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