Finland ramp up the pressure on Moldova

Finland 1-0 Moldova
Dani Hatakka struck shortly after half-time as the hosts trimmed the gap to their second-placed guests to just a point in Group 1.

Jesse Joronen denies Moldova's Gheorghe Anton from the penalty spot
Jesse Joronen denies Moldova's Gheorghe Anton from the penalty spot ©Football Association of Finland

Finland closed within a point of second-placed Moldova in qualifying Group 1 for the 2015 UEFA European Under-21 Championship after Dani Hatakka's 55th-minute effort separated the sides in Kouvola.

Hosts Finland knew victory was essential to boost their hopes of finishing runners-up and potentially securing a play-off berth, but it took until the second period for the game to burst into life. Jesse Joronen denied Moldova's Gheorghe Anton from the penalty spot shortly after the restart and Hatakka promptly punished the visitors for that lapse with the only goal of the game.

The best chance of a quiet first half fell to Finland's Lum Rexhepi, who headed powerfully towards goal from a corner only for Alexei Koşelev to save well. It was Joronen who excelled himself with 50 minutes gone, though, saving Anton's penalty after Rexhepi had committed a foul in the area.

Given a reprieve, Tommi Kautonen's charges made the most when Hatakka rose highest from a Simon Skrabb corner to nod in from close range. However, Moldova sought a quick response at the other end, and Joronen had to snatch the ball away from the feet of substitute Nicolae Milinceanu to secure Finland the points – and also guarantee a spot in the play-offs for section leaders England.

"It was a good win against a strong team," said Kautonen. "It was very positive that we could create so many scoring chances against a physically strong Moldova defence. Of course there were still things we could do better – we did not find space behind Moldova's defence and we could not adjust properly to the changes Moldova made in the second half. All in all, I'm pleased nevertheless."