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Kanerva hails Finland’s Super Cup opportunity

Finland’s men’s national team coach Markku Kanerva believes that Wednesday’s eagerly-awaited encounter between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt in Helsinki can act as an important catalyst for Finnish football’s future development.

Finland men's team coach Markku Kanerva
Finland men's team coach Markku Kanerva UEFA via Getty Images

On Wednesday, European football’s spotlight will shine brightly on Finland as it prepares to stage the UEFA Super Cup match – the country’s first major UEFA men's club competition final.

Finnish men's national team coach Markku Kanerva will be in the stands when Real Madrid meet Eintracht Frankfurt at Helsinki's Olympic Stadium.. He believes that the showpiece event – the curtain-raiser to the new UEFA club competition season – represents a fantastic opportunity for Finnish football and its followers.

"It's a big thing for us to promote our capital Helsinki as well as football generally in Finland," Kanerva told UEFA.com at the city's Super Cup fan festival. "It's huge for us, and there will be a lot of Finnish fans at the game.

Kanerva (r) with former Finland international Petri Pasanen (l) and deputy mayor of Helsinki, Paavo Arhinmaki,  at the Super Cup Fan Village
Kanerva (r) with former Finland international Petri Pasanen (l) and deputy mayor of Helsinki, Paavo Arhinmaki, at the Super Cup Fan Village UEFA via Getty Images

"Seeing these kinds of teams live is fantastic for them," he added. "They are used to supporting the national team at the Olympic Stadium, and now they have a chance to watch Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt. It's a great thing because in the past, we didn’t have so many big football events like we have had in other sports. That's very good for football."

The game has grown considerably in Finland thanks to continued investment, prompting a period of continued success for the country’s national teams. The women's team competed at its fourth consecutive Women's EURO in England this summer, having staged the 2009 event, while under Kanerva's leadership, the men’s team took part in their first major finals when they qualified for UEFA EURO 2020.

These achievements are the fruits of the Football Association of Finland's (SPL-FBF) long-term strategy to grow the game.

With the benefit of UEFA HatTrick funding, the association has invested heavily in developing the best possible infrastructure for football players at all levels, creating more artificial pitches, indoor training halls and club training centres to allow year-round activity in a country where wintry weather conditions would otherwise bring a halt to play.

Young Finnish players can now enjoy better facilities
Young Finnish players can now enjoy better facilitiesJan Hetfleisch/Getty Images for UEFA

"There is still a lot to improve," said Kanerva, himself a former teacher and grassroots coach, who has also taken charge of the Under-21 team. "In Helsinki, there are so many players, girls and boys, but there are still not enough pitches, especially in the wintertime. However, this situation has improved a lot, and coach education is vitally important as well. That has also improved greatly, and it’s something that we have really focused on in the association."

Reflecting on last year's EURO 2020 adventure, Kanerva admitted to mixed feelings following Finland's group-stage exit, but he remains optimistic for the future.

"In the end, it was a little bit disappointing that we didn’t manage to go through to the knockout rounds," the 58-year-old said. "We are very hungry to repeat the achievement again in Germany in 2024. It's going to be hard to get there, but we want to experience more of that kind of atmosphere like we did at EURO 2020."

Finland's players celebrate with their fans after beating Denmark at EURO 2020
Finland's players celebrate with their fans after beating Denmark at EURO 2020AFP via Getty Images

Before the qualifying programme begins for EURO 2024, there is Nations League action to come against Romania and Montenegro. Kanerva feels that the Nations League is a competition that plays a vital role in squad development.

"We still have some important games in the Nations League beforeEURO qualifying starts, and we are on the right track with some new players coming into the squad," he explained. "Hopefully they can stay fit and get some minutes in their club teams, which is very important.

"The Nations League is very useful, because we meet teams that are on the same level as we are. In other qualifying competitions, where there are stronger teams and weaker teams than us, to be able to qualify, we have to beat these kind of League B teams like us. Of course, we want to beat the teams from League A as well, but it's very tough. It's good for the development of players, to see them in this kind of environment, against teams on our level. It tells us a lot, and we gather a lot of information about how players play at this level."

Within the SPL-FBF, a firm structure for player development centres around Kanerva's plans for the senior team.

"One of the key things is the cooperation between the national team coaches at different age groups. We inform each other about the players and their development, and think about the Finnish way of playing as well," he reflected.

"I give the message about the kind of players we need in the future to reach a EURO or World Cup, but for us, the most important thing is what happens at club level – we try to get that information to club coaches as well, to try to develop the type of player that we need for the national teams."

Growing the game in Finland