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Markku Kanerva on Finland's first EURO and making the country proud

"Hopefully we’ll make history right in the first match," says the Finland coach as he prepares for his side's final tournament debut.

Markku Kanerva straightens his tie in preparation for EURO 2020
Markku Kanerva straightens his tie in preparation for EURO 2020 UEFA via Getty Images

A central defender, who spent the best years of his career with home-town club HJK Helsinki, Markku Kanerva achieved a significant coup when he led Finland to the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, but has eclipsed that after taking charge of the senior side in 2016.

The 57-year-old’s team came second in qualifying Group J to earn a first-ever trip to a major tournament, and if UEFA EURO 2020 was delayed by a year due to COVID-19, Kanerva says it has not dampened Finnish enthusiasm for the battle ahead. Denmark, Russia and Belgium await in Group B – bring them on.

Meet the teams: Finland
Meet the teams: Finland

On waiting for kick-off

We have been waiting for this and in the training camps everything has gone well and according to plan. Enthusiasm is increasing and we can’t wait to be at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium to make history right away. Hopefully we’ll make history right in the first match.

I guess one thing I will remember is this journey. It’s been a long process that began way back in 2017 when I accepted the manager’s position. It’s always been a dream to play in a major tournament and now that’s becoming a reality with the first bout of games, it will certainly be a very emotional moment for the players and me. I hope all of us will get a little extra out of it and, ultimately, a good result.

Every goal on Finland's road to EURO 2020
Every goal on Finland's road to EURO 2020

On the opening game against Denmark

Denmark have a very good team. If we look at their last few matches, they’ve had some magnificent results and have scored a lot of goals. Their defence has worked and they have some great individual players. For example, Andreas Christensen who’s fresh from winning the [UEFA] Champions League. There are others too. It is really impressive.

It is a dynamic team – they have the speed and they have the individual performances. They have really high quality, also on the bench. Denmark are a really tough team and they get to play on home soil, but we have proved we can challenge even bigger countries than Denmark.

On Russia and Belgium

Russia have plenty of experience in the squad, such as [Artem] Dzyuba as a striker, a very dangerous player, and [Aleksei] Miranchuk in midfield. They have skilful individuals but the squad have impressed me most with their cohesion and discipline. Perhaps it’s wrong to describe their game as being mechanical, but they’re a team with a strong work ethic. The players are ready to work for the team and they are strong in attack.

Every goal on Belgium's road to EURO 2020
Every goal on Belgium's road to EURO 2020

Belgium are the top team in the FIFA rankings, having finished third in the last World Cup. Their results are strong, as are the 26 players in their squad. Belgium, without doubt, are the team to beat in our group. But it’s our last game in the group and then we’ll know the standings. However, it’s great to be able to face a team like Belgium, the top-ranked side, especially during a major tournament.

On flying the flag for Finland

This sounds like a cliché, but we have so much to gain in the tournament. Our expectations have only been growing, and naturally every game comes with pressure. However, we earned this situation by playing well enough and I trust the squad to be mentally strong enough to withstand the pressure.

There’s a lot of discussion about aspirations: 'Are we going to qualify?' I don’t think that discussion amounts to much. Right now, we’re preparing to play our first game and to do our best against Denmark. Only after that is it time to assess the situation. But the major goal is that we, as a team, can be proud of ourselves after the tournament, proud that we did our best. Hopefully the people of Finland are also proud of us and our performance.

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